By Mike Williamson, Edinburgh Central CLP
Whilst tens of thousands of hungry radicals have poured into the Labour Party in England and washed away its formerly centrist instincts, that tide has yet to reach the high ground in Scotland. Here, moderates still cling to the party’s infrastructure in Holyrood and in its headquarters on Bath Street, kept safe so far by apathy and outdatedness on the party’s left. Richard Leonard might just be the crack in the dam we’ve been waiting for.
It is a bizarre turn of events since the era following the founding of the Scottish Parliament. Then, the party in Scotland seemed reluctant to follow the Blairite tendency dominating the party elsewhere. Even if their preferred tribe was only slightly to the left following the likes of Gordon Brown, Scottish Labour looked more working class, less polished and airbrushed, and more in touch with real people than their Westminster equivalents.
During the independence referendum, a common refrain from yes voters was that it didn’t matter that Scottish Labour talked left, because it was a mere “branch office” of the party in Westminster which was a fixed feature of the right wing establishment. The situation could hardly be more different now. Now Scottish Labour looks like an old dog reluctantly learning new tricks compared to the revitalised leftism going on elsewhere.
When Kezia Dugdale resigned in August there was media speculation that it was a result of a coup from the left. The truth is that the left didn’t want a leadership election because we didn’t think we could win it! We had a dearth of talent, no strategy and inadequate infrastructure to deliver one even if we could pull it together!
Eyes immediately turned to Neil Findlay (who had run before and had already ruled himself out) and Alex Rowley, the party’s deputy leader, but neither seemed too credible and they weren’t the new blood the members wanted to see. Some suggested a compromise on a candidate from the relative soft left like Monica Lennon. Some even suggested putting forward Joe Cullinane, council leader in North Ayrshire.
I’m writing this about a week before the result is announced and there’s the possibility that I’ll be embarrassingly wrong, but despite all of this chaos it looks like we’re on the cusp of electing a left-wing leader of Scottish Labour who wants a redistribution of wealth and power, and a democratisation of the economy that could put the working class in a stronger position than it’s occupied for decades. I mention the initial chaos because when the leadership election was called, we were caught unawares and it didn’t really matter. We’re winning this election and it’s not because of the incredible talent of a few individuals, nor the shining acumen of structures like Campaign for Socialism.
We’re winning because the campaign has managed to mobilise and convince a large proportion of the party’s grassroots. At phonebanks for Richard I’ve met people who haven’t been at all engaged in the left’s traditional structures. Some are newish members attracted by Corbyn, but the majority are longer-standing members re-energised by the prospect of the party mattering again and coming to do their bit. I’ve also been surprised by how many moderate members now seem to recognise that moving to the left is the way to win again in Scotland. My CLP is by no means a hotbed of radicalism but it nominated Richard by 36 votes to 13.
Of course after the election there’s always more to do. We need to turn that successful mobilisation into a more effective organising structure which stands strong even when the excitement has withered away. We need to make sure those that have been mobilised by the campaign are getting stuck into their CLPs and other party structures. At the top of the party and indeed throughout its structures we need to see an end to the culture of patronage and fealty. And we would do well to rid ourselves of the horrendous tribalism characterising Scottish Labour, and once again see the Tories as the major threat to the working class rather than the SNP and independence. If we can do that, then the impending victory for the party’s left will seem small compared to those to come.
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