Scottish Labour and my 11 years without contact
Scottish Labour is tearing itself apart over its lack of leadership, failure of strategy and sense of purpose. It is a sorry tale of decline that raises questions over its continuing relevance in a country that seems to be in the throes of reshaping politics.
But if Labour is to have a future its senior figures would do well to consider how introspective it has become and how it has ignored those who could have helped it make a difference: and, yes, that includes the media.
During 11 years working for The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday, two of the country’s national newspapers, I do not recall a single occasion when the Scottish Labour Party attempted to make contact with any of the business journalists on either paper. So much for putting the economy at the top of the political agenda.
The last regular contact I had with the Scottish Labour Party was when Wendy Alexander was enterprise minister. She held weekly briefings with the business journalists, understanding more than others that there was a world outside the party political bubble. She knew something about the business agenda, a refreshing alternative to those who believed that if the story didn’t involve creating jobs then it wasn’t worth spending time on it.
It’s hard to believe that she left that role 12 years ago. When she switched portfolio these briefings died a death, and so did Labour’s interest in making contact with the country’s business journalists.
Now the disconnection between Labour and the voter is becoming more obvious by the day. The party’s traditional support is finding a voice elsewhere. The Scottish National Party and the Greens are in growth mode and that new support is coming from somewhere. Almost certainly some of it is from the Labour heartlands where the party’s once-solid vote is crumbling.
Whether the blame rests on an uncaring, interfering or ignorant regime in London, or a lack of leadership within the Scottish ranks, things are certainly not getting better.
The disconnection with those it once represented is part of a blurring of party affiliation so that the voter cannot distinguish Labour from other parties, including the Tories. New Labour may have stolen the Tories clothes in the 1990s, but the Tories have grabbed them back and left Labour denuded. No one really knows any more what it stands for.
There are calls for it to lurch back to the left, the preferred choice of Margaret Curran. This echoes the path trodden by leftists in the 1980s following Margaret Thatcher’s grip on power after Labour’s disastrous winter of discontent. Amid the battle for Labour’s soul Michael Foot, an erstwhile hero of the left wing thinking classes, was exposed as a weak and futile leader. The leftward swing opened the door to the creation of the Social Democratic Party and while that experiment in moderate politics failed, it did pave the way for the resurrection of the Liberal Democrats. It also left Labour with an identity crisis which, after 18 years out of office, it only resolved by the creation of New Labour.
Now that New Labour has been reborn in the Tory party, along with the right wing of the LibDems, Labour is once again searching for an identity. Its problem now is not so much that the voter has deserted the party as the party has deserted the voter. Labour traditionalists who stood by it in spite of the “betrayal” of the working classes by the Islington set, are once again being tested, and the overwhelming evidence is that they have had enough.
A new lurch to the left, however, would not serve the party well. Despite noises from some in the SNP to create a socialist state, there is no widespread appetite for anything resembling such an outcome. Scotland will only prosper if those who have talent are allowed to turn those abilities into wealth-creating ventures. From these ventures public services can be funded. Until Labour gets this basic message it will thrash around in the wilderness of futile politics where utopian dreams live on outside the real world.