By Andy O’Brien
Kate Watson pulled off a remarkable feat last Friday (1 June) in being selected as the Labour candidate for Glasgow East in the next general election.
For the best part of the last eight years she has been working full-time in London.
From 2010 onwards, as she stated in her biography circulated to Party members in Glasgow East, she worked for the then Labour MP Douglas Alexander in the House of Commons.
(There must be a remarkable view from the Commons. According to the biography, “working in the House of Commons” allowed Watson to “see first-hand how the Tory-led coalition government’s austerity agenda was impacting on so many people across the country.”)
When Watson finished working for Alexander in Westminster is not stated in the biography. Presumably, it would have been in 2015, when Alexander lost his seat in that year’s general election.
Also omitted from Watson’s biography is her stint during that period as the Director of Operations for ‘Better Together’ in 2014, more of which below.
From late 2015 onwards Watson continued to work for the now ex-MP Douglas Alexander, this time as the Chief Operating Officer for Alexander’s consultancy company ‘Consequitur’. Head office address: Harben House, Harben Parade, Finchley Road, London.
That too is absent from the biography circulated by Watson to Labour Party members.
Between September of 2015 and June of 2017 (after that month’s general election) Watson did not attend a single meeting of her Constituency Labour Party (Shettleston CLP)*. Even before then she had not always been a regular attender.
* To avoid confusion: Scottish CLPs are based on Scottish parliamentary constituencies. The Westminster parliamentary constituency Glasgow East is made up of parts of the Scottish parliament’s Glasgow Shettleston and Glasgow Provan constituencies. Part of the Shettleston and part of the Provan membership were able to vote in the Glagsow East selection.
Nor did Watson take part in any of the campaigning organised by her CLP over that period: against the Tories’ anti-union laws, against the Tories’ cuts in working families tax credits, the 2016 Holyrood election campaign, and the 2016 EU referendum.
But in April of 2017 the Scottish Labour Party Executive Committee appointed Watson to be the Labour candidate for Glasgow East in the snap general election called for June.
At that time, campaigning for the Scottish council elections was already underway. Watson had played no role in that campaigning. Not until her appointment as the Glasgow East candidate, when she suddenly – and pretty literally – arrived on the scene.
Working full-time in London, and having been totally absent from CLP meetings and campaigns for the past 18 months, did not prevent Watson from producing an election leaflet which claimed:
“I care about the East End. This is where I live and I’ve seen first hand how badly the SNP have let local people down.”
Watson’s election agent, who shared a legal responsibility for Watson’s election material, was her mother. She too had not attended a CLP meeting since September 2015, and had likewise taken no part in any of the CLP’s campaigning activities.
In her 2018 biography Watson wrote in similar terms: “I care deeply about our area. It is where I live. I have devoted over a decade of my life to campaigning here.” Unfortunately, she did not specify the decade in question.
Watson’s professed concern for Glasgow East also sits uneasily with her academic pursuits and other activities.
Given the levels of social deprivation in parts of Glasgow East, a Masters in, say, Social Work or Community Work might come in handy. But the Masters which Watson obtained from St. Andrews University in 2013 was in Terrorism Studies.
Terrorism? Not really a pressing problem in the East End of Glasgow.
But a Masters in Terrorism Studies does fit in with Watson’s role as a Specialist Reserve Officer in the army’s 77th Brigade, created in 2015 and based in Hermiston (near Newbury) in order to “use psychological operations and social media to help fight enemies in the information age.”
The evasiveness of Watson’s biography about her employment history is matched by an evasiveness about her political record.
The biography criticises the post-2010 Tory-Lib-Dem government’s austerity agenda. But when a motion was proposed at a meeting of her CLP in 2013 criticising the Parliamentary Labour Party for failing to adequately campaign against Tory austerity, Watson spoke against it.
It would be “the first duty” (sic) of a Labour government, she said, to cut public spending. Consequently, ran the torturous ‘logic’ of her argument, the PLP could not be condemned for failing to oppose cuts which they themselves would make if in government.
Watson’s biography is peppered with bog-standard anti-Tory rhetoric. But in early 2014 Watson brought along a member of the Conservative Party to a meeting of Shettleston CLP and introduced him with the words:
“This is a member of the Conservative Party. I’ve brought him to speak to this evening’s meeting because he’s a member of the Conservative Party, to show how well Labour can work with the Conservatives in ‘Better Together’.”
The biography ends with a hackneyed call to Party members to vote for her in the selection contest so that she can “help Jeremy kick the Tories out of government at the next election.”
But in the failed Labour coup of 2016 Watson wanted to kick Corbyn out of the leadership of the Labour Party. Her tweets and retweets included:
“I’m a Labour member and feel betrayed by @jeremycorbyn destroying the Party I love. Please do honourable thing and resign. … Honestly @jeremycorbyn – just go away. Staying is selfish. You’ve been a disaster. It’s hopeless. There was a moment to leave with grace.”
“Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown, Thomas Picketty – all saying Corbyn should stand down. This isn’t a Blairite plot. It’s a widespread uprising. … This is not a coup. The coup was by Trots, etc. who helped Corbyn become leader. This is the fightback.”
Watson was also a signatory to the 2016 Open Letter signed by around 300 Scottish Labour Party members calling on Corbyn to resign because he “cannot provide the leadership needed to form a Labour government and further the interests of working people.”
In the 2017 Scottish Labour Party leadership contest, Watson campaigned for Anas Sarwar, the millionaire whose family firm does not recognise a trade union and does not pay the Scottish Living Wage.
At the Shettleston CLP nomination meeting, it was Watson herself who made the opening speech proposing Anas Sarwar. More recently, in April of this year, Watson proposed the right-wing anti-Corbyn “Labour for All” slate for the Scottish seats on the Labour Party National Policy Forum.
All of this was absent from Watson’s biography. Knowing that the hard-core right-wing vote would back her anyway, Watson even masqueraded as a friend of Corbyn in an attempt to broaden her electoral appeal.
According to her biography: “I was pleased to invite Jeremy Corbyn to the constituency following the election to visit Parkhead Housing Association.”
In fact, Corbyn’s visit to Glasgow East was arranged by the Leader’s Office in conjunction with the Scottish Labour Party office, as part of a tour of post-June-2017 marginal SNP seats in Scotland. It was not a matter of a personal invitation from Watson.
(The supposed invitation by Watson certainly failed to impress Parkhead Housing Association. Its Deputy Director personally endorsed the left-wing candidate in the selection contest, and a former member of its Management Committee also voted for her.)
Watson even produced a leaflet during the selection contest suggesting close ties with Corbyn.
At the same time a second leaflet, presumably for her core voters, listed endorsements by Gordon Brown (anti-Corbyn), Glasgow Labour Group leader Frank McAveety (anti-Corbyn) and former Glasgow East MP Margaret Curran (anti-Corbyn).
In a similar attempt to suggest that she enjoyed support across the political spectrum, her biography claimed: “Labour voices across the Party, from Gordon Brown to Len McCluskey, from Frank McAveety to Margaret Curran, have encouraged me to stand again.”
But only a few days later McCluskey issued a personal endorsement of the left-wing candidate, Linda Croker:
“I am proud to endorse her [Linda Croker] to contest this seat, and I am confident she will make an excellent representative for the people of Glasgow East, and all working people, in Westminster.”
(And “from Frank McAveety to Margaret Curran” hardly covers a great distance on the political spectrum.)
But the evasiveness about Watson’s employment history, the silence on her political record, and the feigned cordiality with Corbyn do not exhaust the peculiarities of Watson’s biography.
Watson makes great play of her supposed contribution to building the Labour Party in Glasgow East.
She worked for McAveety when he was an MSP and helped secure his re-election. She helped win election victories for councillors across the constituency. She delivered a Labour victory in Glasgow East in the 2010 general election, etc., etc., etc.
At the end of her biography, however, she writes: “I desperately wanted to rebuild the Labour vote in Glasgow East [in June 2017]. … I would work every day [if selected] as your candidate to rebuild the Labour Party in our area.”
But if Watson made such a magnificent contribution to building support for Labour, why does the Labour vote and the Labour Party itself in Glasgow East now need to be “rebuilt”?
The answer is: It was Watson’s politics which undermined the Labour vote and the Labour Party in Glasgow East – collaboration with the Tories in ‘Better Together’, a failure to fight Tory austerity, and the degeneration of the local CLP into a moribund rump organisation.
In the years when Margaret Curran was the Glasgow East MP (2010 to 2015) Shettleston CLP was one which held out the hand of friendship to the Tories (see above) while supporting the police being sent in against trade unionists.
When the Labour Party leadership handed over to the police a ‘dossier’ of alleged irregularities in the selection process in Falkirk East constituency in 2013, Shettleston CLP twice voted down motions condemning the decision to bring in the police.
In fact, the second motion was proposed after the police had found that there was no case to answer, and the Guardian had published Labour’s internal report, which likewise showed that there was no case to answer. Even so, the motion still went down to defeat.
And this was presumably slap-bang in the middle of the decade which Watson claims to have devoted to Glasgow East and the local Labour Party.
Then there is the matter of Watson’s incredible trade union organising abilities.
In her self-nomination form (which she circulated to selected CLP members, and which was also circulated through official channels to affiliated trade union branches) Watson claimed:
“I’m a committed trade unionist. … I am currently a member of Community Trade Union, having helped the Deputy General Secretary recruite [sic] members at previously non-unionised workplaces across Scotland.”
An incredible achievement. There are full-time union organisers in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, etc. working to unionise workplaces in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, etc., but with mixed results and sometimes far from successfully.
And yet Watson can simultaneously work full-time in London, devote a decade of her life to Glasgow East, and unionise workplaces across Scotland. It would be interesting to be able to identify the workplaces she claims to have unionised.
Watson’s choice of language is also peculiar. A real trade union organiser would say: “I work with union members and activists to build union organisation in their workplace.” But Watson writes that she “helped the Community Deputy General Secretary” to organise workplaces.
Watson’s professed feat also makes it surprising that she did not win a single supporting nomination in the selection contest from any of the trade union branches or trade unions affiliated to the CLPs which make up Glasgow East. They all backed Linda Croker.
Finally, there is the superficial analysis of last year’s general election result in Glasgow East which is provided in her biography. Watson writes: “I was proud to cut the SNP majority from 10,387 to 75 votes.”
In fact, the SNP vote slumped (as it did virtually everywhere) by 10,000. The Labour vote, on the other hand, increased by a mere 220. SNP voters turned away from the SNP for a variety of reasons (especially its pro-EU line). But only a handful were attracted to vote Labour.
The Labour vote in Glasgow East in 2017 was 6,000 less than it had been in 2010, the only time in the four elections and by-elections in the last decade that Labour has won the seat.
If the Labour vote increases at the same rate as in 2017, it will take 27 general elections (anything up to 135 years) to reach the Labour vote of 2010. With Watson as a Labour candidate, it will probably take a lot longer.
Watson’s election ‘campaign’ of 2017 – being a complete unknown to most CLP members, virtually no-one came out to campaign for her – was actually a reminder to SNP voters about why they had stopped voting Labour.
Prominent in pictures of her ‘campaign’ were the rejects of 2015 (Margaret Curran, Dougie Alexander, and Willie Bain, ex-MP for Glasgow North-East) and the reject of 2017 (Frank McAveety, who had just presided over Labour losing control of the City Council for the first time in four decades).
The fact that the right wing mobilised around Watson in the selection contest also says a lot about their political priorities.
In contrast to Watson, the left-wing candidate has lived and worked in the constituency for twenty years. She is well-known in the area. She had endorsements from a range of local community activists (whereas Watson had none).
She had a track record as a real Party activist (not a paid Party functionary). She had a campaigning record dating back to the miners’ strike of 1984/85. And she had 100% trade union support. She was indisputably the candidate best placed to win Glasgow East.
But rather than back the candidate with the best chance of winning the constituency for Labour, the right wing backed a gift to the SNP. For them, Labour’s chances of winning played second-fiddle, or not even that, to ensuring that the candidate selected was one of their own.
Like her handful of campaigners in the 2017 general election, Watson represents the politics of the past: New Labour, collaboration with the Tories, support for cuts in public spending, anti-Corbyn, anti-Leonard, and glib vacuousness in place of political clarity.
In his “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, written in 1852, Marx wrote of how “the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”
It’s really odd how he manged to foresee the outcome of the Glasgow East selection contest 166 years before it happened.
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