David Martin MEP connects the debate within Scotland and Labour to debates underway across Europe.
The resignation of any party leader is an opportunity for reflection and a reassessment of the party’s commitments, priorities and strategy.
The resignation of Johann as leader of Scottish Labour has not only thrown up these questions, but has also made the debate over the future of Scottish Labour and our relationship with the UK Labour Party all the more urgent.
In the aftermath of Johann’s resignation, a generation defining referendum on Scottish independence and a sustained period of economic decline, the flavour of the month has become intellectual soul searching on Scottish Labour’s constitutional future.
From my position as a Scottish Labour Member of the European Parliament, I am connected to the debates we are having here in Scotland, but also to those my colleagues in the Socialist and Democrat bloc of the European Parliament are having within their own parties. The most significant and relevant of these are my colleagues in the Catalan Socialist Party.
We talk about Catalonia a lot in the context of Scottish independence. There are differences yes, but in many ways the general themes are the same, not least in my opinion the economic struggles both peoples are facing and the appeal of the nationalism and division to make their situation better. So should we look to the relationship between the Catalan and Spanish socialist parties as a model for Labour in the UK?
Founded in the immediate post-Franco years, the PSC (Catalan Socialist Party) was a merger between the wider PSOE (Spanish Socialist party) and two smaller Catalan parties. The official status of the PSC remains today as an autonomous party within the PSOE, where even on big policy decisions such as ‘should Catalonia be independent?’ the PSC is allowed to take its own position. Indeed, the official PSC position was in favour of Catalan independence until 2013, when it withdrew its support for the secessionist process and backed the PSOE in a proposal to reform the Spanish constitution along well defined federal lines.
Scottish Labour is perceived as not having freedom within Labour party. The Bedroom Tax, and Johann’s inability to immediately come out against it, is often hailed as an example of how we have been stifled and let our supporters down. Yet, what in practice was there to stop Johann from doing it?
The Catalan model does not indicate that Scottish Labour would have more electoral success if we were to choose to go down the autonomous route. The PSC’s affiliation to the PSOE has hurt them recently in regional elections, with them losing out to Catalonia’s answer to the SNP – the CiUD.
Yet in national elections for the Spanish parliament they remain one of Spain’s most popular parties. This proves that even with a high level of inner autonomy, including the ability to diverge on fundamental issues, voters can still switch their vote for regional elections.
Calling for complete autonomy could still be the answer for Scottish Labour, and that is a debate we need to have as a party and to reach our own conclusions. We must be aware though that going down that road could have wider repercussions. Not least, it heeds to the Nationalists’ line that Scotland is somehow different to the rest of the UK and the problems the electorate face here are different to the ones down south.
Turning our backs on the fundamental value of solidarity of the left should not be taken lightly. Our decision needs to be based on what is best for the Scottish people, as well as what reignites their connection with the politics of Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels.
Really, it needs to be about power for a purpose, not on some cynical calculation of how we can secure more seats in the next election. Why do we need more autonomy? What do we want to achieve?
Labour is an important political player in Scotland and our choices in the next few months will have wide repercussions. We should not ask for more autonomy because it feels like what we should do.
It is about our policies and our vision. If they can be heard loudly and clearly, and be respected within the Labour party, is more autonomy really what Scotland needs?