BOCTNN – an unconvinced socialist looks at Labour for Scotland

Stephen LowStephen Low is a member of the Scottish Labour Party. He is unconvinced by the statement issued by the campaign group Labour for Scotland.

Really, he’s very unconvinced.


It doesn’t seem obvious at all, following the vote of the people of Scotland to remain in the UK, that Scottish Labour’s credibility is dependent on leaving the UK Labour Party. But that is the view of Labour’s own tiny Team Yes. Under the banner of ‘Labour for Scotland’, and still craving separatism, they have shifted their focus to internal party matters.

They want us to change our name to the ‘Independent Labour Party’. That lots of people have seen the word ‘independent’ on a ballot paper lately and it didn’t work out too well isn’t holding back these boys. In fairness, with that as a starting point you can hardly accuse them of having a hidden agenda.

But Of Course They’re Not Nationalists.

Readers of a certain age or anoraky disposition may see a large overlap between the statement of ‘Labour for Scotland’ and ‘the answer to everything is be more Scottish’ simplicities of the Scottish Labour Action grouping which fell apart at some point in the mid 90s. If so, like myself, they may find their initial response isn’t so much “…second time as farce”* as “oh, not this pish again”.

Here is the statement from ‘Labour for Scotland’ – with some commentary of my own. (For ease of reading, the repeated phrase ‘but of course they’re not nationalists’ has been rendered as ‘BOCTNN’.)

“The 2014 referendum in Scotland represented an extraordinary political awakening.

With a record turnout of 85 per cent it was one of the greatest democratic engagements anywhere in the world, bringing many people into active politics who had never even voted before.”

Yep. 2 million people voted that Scotland should be in the UK. So farewell to the idea that Scotland being part of the UK is down to a ‘parcel of rogues’, and hello to the ‘sovereign will of the Scottish people’. I’m sure that will get an acknowledgement as we go along.

“The campaign and its aftermath must be recognised as a vote for change in the way that politics is conducted in Scotland. Labour must rise to the challenge.”

Mebbes the biggest actual campaign we’ve ever run might be construed as us having done that? We won by the way. You don’t seem to have noticed that.

“Many of the communities with the deepest connections to the Labour movement, including Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire and Dundee, voted Yes. People’s considered and often heart-felt views must be respected.”

Note that ‘many’ – it means ‘four’. Meanwhile the word to describe the areas with the deepest connections to the Labour movement that voted No would be ‘most’. Interesting use of ‘including’ to describe a list of all (four) of the areas that voted Yes.

Yes voters had ‘considered and often heart-felt views’ which ‘must be respected’. Any respect for the No voters guys? Majority decision, democracy, 55-45, yeah?

“The decision of many Labour members and supporters to vote Yes must be recognised as a profound challenge to the policies, organisation and culture of the Scottish Labour Party.”

Many Labour members. Ah yes I remember all those knife edge votes at CLP meetings up and down the land… Oh no, wait, wait, I don’t. They never happened – because across the entirety of Scotland not a single CLP supported Yes.

I do remember people who didn’t have the decency to talk to their CLPs demanding debates with Ed Miliband, and I’m glad we got 18 months of subs from Allan Grogan, but ‘many’? Perhaps the ‘profound challenge’ here might be for those who now have to recognise that Labour backed a No vote, so did the Scottish people, and so by a larger margin than general population did Labour supporters. No won – we’re up to para 6 and still no sign of recognising this.

“It is clear that the risks of independence sounded thin to those who have little to risk. Labour’s response must be to set out a radical agenda for home rule in the 21st century that shifts power from every level of government closer to people and communities.”

Of course the risk of independence was in fact highest for those who believed they had little to lose. That the “we can just keep using the pound” proposal got whoops and cheers from the Adam Smith Institute is testimony to that. So that’s a problem of perception – one that is addressed by campaigning round some economic fundamentals with policies that will get people on board.

The idea that we ‘must’ campaign on home rule actually feeds the illusion that the problems faced by people in Scotland are primarily constitutional in nature which is, er, quite a nationalist take on things, BOCTNN.

Neither is home rule by itself radical. If it were then the SNP (who want to cut taxes more than George Osborne) would be radical/ They ain’t.

“Labour should make tackling inequality the central objective of our policy in 2015 and 2016 and campaign as insurgents, not as part of the political establishment.”


“It is clear that many Labour supporters felt confused, angry and alienated by the Party’s participation in a joint campaign with an unpopular Conservative Government. This decision required far greater debate and consultation with the membership.

The key dividing line is not whether you voted Yes or No. It is about the values that motivate our politics. We are not Unionists or Nationalists. We are democratic socialists.”

The authors all voted Yes, BOCTNN . We’re now 9 paragraphs in without acknowledging that the majority in Scotland voted No, that an even larger majority of Labour supporters voted no, and that within the party support for Yes was, being charitable, slender. It’s quite important to notice that if you are going to include ‘democratic’ as part of your values.

“We lay claim to a distinctive tradition of radical home rule that stretches back over a century to Keir Hardie. We stand for the redistribution of wealth, power and economic resources from the City of London across the whole country and particularly towards working people. Our enduring values are those of hope and aspiration.”

Ho, paws off – we seen it first. And in any event it should be in common ownership. I’d be a wee bit more enthusiastic about “the redistribution of wealth, power and economic resources across the whole country” if I’d seen any indication before now that country included people south of Berwick, BOCTNN.

“To this end, we call on the Scottish Labour Party:

To assert Scotland’s right to self-determination on such a basis as the people of Scotland themselves decide.”

So the first part of redistributing wealth power and economic resources is… self determination for Scotland. Interesting set of priorities there, BOCTNN.

“To adopt the argument that a Conservative Government, with only minority support in Scotland, must respect the views of Scotland’s democratically elected representatives when developing policy for Scotland.”

Of course this would also apply to Labour governments trying to impose progressive policies on recalcitrant nationalist governments in Edinburgh. And of course this has implications for how the whole of the UK is governed. That’s the sort of thing that democratic socialists notice, but people whose only concern is this nation tend not to. BOCTNN.

“To use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to redistribute wealth, power and economic resources across the whole of Scotland and particularly towards working people.

To pursue an ambitious agenda, in partnership with civil society, for a stronger Scottish Parliament with much greater powers over taxation, including the full devolution of income tax, welfare, broadcasting and substantial economic and industrial powers including labour regulation.”

Calling for more powers isn’t ambitious. Proposing to use them might be. But some calls for more powers really aren’t helpful. Making it more difficult for tax to be raised in one part of the UK and spent in another isn’t ambitious at all – when it comes to raising and spending public money the principle involved should be need not nation.

“To commit to a policy of non-cooperation in any future referendum on Scottish independence with the Conservative Party, or any other party whose policies are fundamentally at odds with the view of people in Scotland.”

Fantastic – let’s talk about another referendum. Just what we’re all looking forward to. Well when I say ‘all’ I mean Naomi Woolf, various reflective headgear wearing conspiracy theorists and, er, no one else at all. Not even Nicola Sturgeon. So yeah let’s start planning for that, such a sensible discussion to be having now.

“We believe that for Scottish Labour to be credible in putting this platform before the Scottish people it must itself be fully autonomous from its London leadership. We will therefore campaign for the party in Scotland to have the right to appoint its own full-time officials, write its own constitution and for members to elect the front bench team at both Westminster and Holyrood.”

Note “London leadership”. Not UK leadership. Now who is it that talks about London Labour all the time? Incidentally has anyone ever met anyone, ever, who thought that Scottish Labour’s credibility was undermined by being part of a UK wide party who wasn’t a nationalist? BOCTNN.

And, just a thought mind, but maybe being a UK wide party is a good thing, what with, you know, the majority of people in Scotland wanting to be in the UK and everything.

“The relationship must be one of equal status and respect in which we act together on progressive policies that affect the whole of the UK. Furthermore, we believe that by building a strong Scottish Labour we will help Labour to prosper throughout the whole of the UK.”

“We don’t want to be with you any more – we want to be different, play by our own rules. We want to be the surly teenagers of the movement… But we want respect dammit.” Yeah, good luck with that one guys. Obviously, severing all the organisational ties will have absolutely no impact whatsoever on our capacity to play a full part in acting together on progressive policies that affect the whole UK. Erm.

“As a public and explicit sign both of renewal, and pride in our past, we urge consideration of a change in the name of the party in Scotland to the Independent Labour Party.”

Och, just away and raffle yourselves.

“Just as the referendum delivered a democratic revolution in Scotland, we are campaigning for a democratic revolution in Scottish Labour. Our central demand is that the party must listen and be held accountable to its members and the communities it seeks to represent.”

No, it’s not a democratic revolution in Scottish Labour. It’s a call for business as usual, it’s a call for once again looking at issues and problems in Scotland and thinking that what needs to be done is an appeal to Scottish identity rather than the community of interest of working people.

We’ve done this before. Remember the Calman Commission? Worthy enough recommendations in the main but we didn’t lose in 2007 because the Scottish Parliament didn’t have enough powers. And it hardly put the Nats back in their box now did it? More devo might be well and good but in and of itself it doesn’t help anybody – or tackle nationalism.

Calman at least was a response to defeat, but this? This is an absurdity, a call for separatism from UK Labour after we’ve won a vote to be in the UK. It’s not an attempt to respond to the result – it’s an attempt to set it aside.

The democratic revolution in Scotland was an emphatic affirmation by the people of Scotland of our participation in the UK. Let’s listen to our members, let’s deliver on the promises we made (rather than promises people smarting from defeat wish we’d made). Let’s keep faith with the majority – inside and outside of the Labour Party – on constitutional change. But let’s never forget that what will make a difference for working people isn’t constitutional mechanics but the political will to challenge inequality and injustice.

Anybody can be Scottish. Only we can be Labour. And it’s only by being Labour that we can deliver.


*Learned readers will be aware that Marx’s famous aphorism about repetition referred to great world historical events… so literally nothing in recent Scottish politics qualifies.

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11 thoughts on “BOCTNN – an unconvinced socialist looks at Labour for Scotland

  1. A typically robust take from Stephen. I am going to enjoy writing a reply. For now, I will simply say the starting point for all of us is that we want the Labour Party to be successful, there is a lot more that unites us than divides us, and I welcome the debate.

    1. And a typically generous and diplomatic comment from Andrew in response. I write as an outsider but as someone sympathetic to the history and traditions of the Labour Party in Scotland and across the UK. Unfortunately this comes across as a cynical and complacent read best characterised by the pedantry in response to the observation that Glasgow, Dundee etc produced majorities in favour of independence. If Labour’s relationship with such places has perhaps become jaded, it should still be of significant concern that traditionally working class areas diverged from the outcome promoted by the party. Constitutional issues are likely to remain to the fore for some time yet and will not do for Scottish Labour to be tamely swept along on the tide while wishing things were different. The fact is, while the SNP remains a significant force of the Scottish political landscape, almost every issue will have a constitutional dimension. For those concerned, this should be countered, not grumpily lamented. But Scottish Labour appears to lack intellectual weight, direction and vitality. A paragraph-by-paragraph dissection of a statement hardly seems like an adequete response to the challenges Labour for Scotland at least seems to be fully grasping.

    2. I am more of an old fashioned Labour man and socialist Mr. McFadyen. I believe in unity and solidarity not division. If the machinery in place within the party to take decisions and have your voice heard is not to your liking perhaps you should form your own party. I’s sure Mr. Grogan, Charlie Gray, Bob Thomson and Henry McLeish, Jim Sillars and Tommy Sheridan etc. would join you. With friends like you etc.

  2. BOCTAN But of course they are Nationalists! I thought most of them had joined the snp!
    Shame on them indeed!

  3. Agree with much of this critique but we do need a sensible debate on the relationship between the Scottish Labour Party and the Labour Party – where it should be autonomous, where it can contribute to the UK Party, how it can lead progressive politics in Scotland

  4. An excellent piece by Stephen Low. Agree wholeheartedly with it. The rump of Yessers within the Scottish Labour Party were quite happy to see it torn asunder if the SNP has won the day. This was their big bonus in the event of a Yes vote. By implication they were also happy to take Scotland and rUK to the verge of economic collapse, something the majority in Scotland realised and overwhelmingly rejected on September 18. Sure we need to continually examine our direction, but in no way led by people who a month ago were in cahoots with the SNP. Falsely, politically, economically socially and psychologically.

  5. Stephen, I notice you’re a member of the Scottish Labour Party.

    Given your views on Nationalism, why aren’t you a member of the Labour Party?

  6. It took a coalition of conservatives, unionists, lib dems, loyalists, orangemen and labour party disciples to win the no vote. Going by the analysis provided then it would appear that all Yes voters are deemed to be ‘nationalists’ so it should be interesting to see what happens when the ‘No Coalition’ go back to their tribal politics……a solid 45% anti unionist parties vote against a split unionist vote…interesting times indeed…..unless the Labour and Conservative Parties in Scotland decide on a red / blue Tory alliance and agree not to oppose each other. Just a point…..there are not many people who have lost their Labour values….it is the Labour Party that has lost theirs….sad but true.

  7. I very much enjoyed Stephen’s article and find myself agreeing with much of what he has to say. I toiled away for the last 2 years at the coalface of the referendum watching (from behind the sofa mainly) as Scottish Labour failed to stand up for anything much let alone stand up and be counted. The same old faces turning up to each canvassing session or street stall was evidence that many Labour members in Scotland did not feel in the least motivated to defend the Union or any of the achievements of the Party over the last century. I have suspected that a significant number of Labour members regarded themselves as “conscientious objectors” and not just refused to campaign but were quietly hoping that the SNP would win outright.

    Now we find ourselves fighting for our political lives in Scotland and struggling to establish a distinct identity from that of our chief tormentors and opponents. The Michael Howard taunt of “what is Labour for?” has been taken up by the SNP and now requires an answer pretty, bloody sharpish.

  8. Interesting article.
    Maybe the Labour Party should tell those Labour voters who voted YES to take a hike coz they lined up with the Tories.
    Or is that the wrong way round.

  9. Well argued points by Stephen. If 50% plus 1 was a majority, then what is 10%. However that’s the past. The parcel of rogues has held oudt for 300 years, now its endorsed
    However rhetoric is ok. However we face the nats with a tenth of their numbers. Without troops you can’t win wars!
    Need a membership drive.

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