I’VE long entertained a theory on how the Labour Party is enfeebled by the forces of the UK establishment. It’s a very English form of entryism that begins in the drinking clubs of Oxford University.
We already know that these dens are where future UK leaders are formed and tutored. Having reached Oxford, it would seem somewhat careless not to depart without collecting your degree. But this is an ancillary pursuit, subordinate to the main object of the exercise: just being there; seeking out the right chaps and thereafter dividing the future spoils of power and influence.
Universal suffrage, the rise of trade unionism and the birth of the Labour Party must all have posed an existential threat to these stratagems. After all, how can you expect to wield power and hold back the red tides of socialism when the greater majority of people whom you have traditionally subdued for a few hundred years are now armed with the means to turf you out? Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy: you simply ask for volunteers from among the chaps to pose as good Labour people. Thus, instead of proscribing the party you simply infiltrate it by ensuring that it never careers out of control.
Of course, a measure of leftish sentiments must be permitted to preserve a veneer of democracy and the illusion of balance. But nothing that might scare the horses, wreck share portfolios or change the direction of the nation’s cash flow. And when some of your Bullingdon confederates gain control of the family newspapers or take their guaranteed positions at the top of the BBC the natural order is maintained and all alarums and excursions are kept in check.
Occasionally, a renegade like Jeremy Corbyn does break through the nets and so it’s all hands on deck and splice the mainbrace to ensure that he’s downed before he can make a dash for the finish line. The media chaps are duly despatched and the Labour sleepers are aroused to finish him off. By jingo, they even managed to replace him with a millionaire knight of the realm.
And when the movement for Scottish independence menaced the stability of that realm and, worse, threatened the North Sea cash cow and to jettison the nuclear toys – those secret agents performed heroically once more. Admittedly, some went a bit too far with all that Union Jack malarkey, but it all turned out fine in the end.
Now, I find myself wondering if some in the SNP have also studied the Oxford method and deployed it to reduce the Labour Party in Scotland to a political end-of-pier act, good for little other than providing a semblance of diversity at Holyrood and holding the jackets. So steep and rapid has been the descent of Labour in Scotland that you are tempted to suspect an unseen nationalist hand. Yet, closer inspection reveals the main cause of its slump to have been mere stupidity, albeit on a scale rarely before seen. This party is to politics what Gerald Ratner was to marketing.
Just when you think it must surely have tired of this foolishness and a generation wandering aimlessly in the political desert, it reveals that it hasn’t quite reached rock bottom and feels it still has some way to go.
Following the bitter experience of the independence referendum campaign, you felt that now surely the party might have come to its senses. It had seen more than 30% of its supporters defy the party managers by voting Yes in 2014. Many had become alarmed by the failure of the party to halt the rise of the hard right within the Conservative Party and hoped that, in an independent Scotland, an authentic Labour Party might govern once more.
Yet, the sight of Labour Party activists and politicians mocking their own supporters and undermining their movement by making merry with Tories was sufficient to make this migration of support to Yes permanent and irretrievable.
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It was one thing espousing support for the Union; but the barely concealed hatred of many leading figures in Scottish Labour for independence and the SNP bordered on the psychotic and presented a deeply disturbing image.
NOW, six years on, Labour in Scotland seem addicted to failure. First came Kezia Dugdale, a political careerist miles out of her depth. Her lack of any deep-rooted political convictions became evident when she chose to abandon her constituents for £70k and a spell in the Australian jungle for an ITV gameshow.
Dugdale achieved something once regarded as impossible: she made Labour the third most popular party in Scotland. She’s now been replaced by Richard Leonard, a politician whose career trajectory fits the description “rising without trace”. No patch of heather will ever be in danger while this man remains in charge.
Faced with a ruinous Brexit and the coronavirus aftermath, both of which will combine to eviscerate working-class communities, Leonard insists on fighting next year’s Holyrood elections on the failed “No referendum” policy. That didn’t even work for the Tories, lasting only for as long as it took Ruth Davidson to pursue a sideline as a political lobbyist. What is it with Scottish Unionist leaders and their belief that a salary of £75k-plus (all expenses paid) isn’t sufficient to support their lifestyles?
Labour don’t even need to support independence, simply back a referendum for which an overwhelming popular mandate has existed in Scotland for the last nine years. Leonard’s weakness will inevitably see him forced out by Ian “Union Jack” Murray and Anas Sarwar, another millionaire whose family’s Labour credentials didn’t extend
to paying the living wage at their Glasgow business. In time, Leonard will probably find a berth in the favoured lobbying firm of Holyrood’s executive refugees. Labour’s constitutional partners at Holyrood, the Scottish Tories, are now led by a man who can’t command respect from significant sections of his own party. He’ll end up in the same place. Recent opinion polls, unsurprisingly, point to a record SNP majority at Holyrood in 2021 and growing support for independence amongst Unionist supporters in Scotland.
There was a time when former Labour supporters in Scotland might have returned to the party in a post-independence election. That ship, I fear, has now sailed and taken with it the last remnants of what was once Labour in Scotland.
Those of us, generations of whose families campaigned for this once great party, now feel utterly betrayed and grievously sad.