Labour is one party – and it’s not just Scotland that needs to remember it

DH cropLabour Hame editor Duncan Hothersall says the ties that bind the Labour family across the UK are growing fragile and fractious, and a crisis of co-operation needs urgently to be addressed. An abridged version of this article was first published on LabourList.


A few weeks ago I took part in a panel discussion entitled How does Labour represent a multi-nation democracy? at the Progress Annual Conference in London. I wasn’t the only first-time attendee – Jeremy Corbyn was there too, to give the keynote address. It was an interesting, comradely day.

But we are facing a crisis of co-operation in our party between Scotland and the rest of the UK. There is, from what seems to be a significant element of Labour’s national voice, at best a failure to listen to, and at worst a fundamental dismissal of, Scottish Labour’s views and experience. There is a creeping tendency to see Scotland as ‘other’ despite the bruising referendum delivering a clear outcome of solidarity. There is a fatalism in assessments of the recent Scottish election results. And there is an insidious and dangerous misconception that the SNP are our ideological allies, and therefore to be admired, and even embraced.

In an article in Labour Uncut, Kevin Meagher asks Why aren’t we furious with the Scottish party? (Note that the “we” implicitly excludes his fellow members in Scotland, who he goes on to describe as a “steaming turd”.) It’s unclear from what experience of Scotland or Labour campaigning here he draws his insight. But in damning his Scottish colleagues, he also explicitly praises our opposition, endorsing their core messages and criticising us for being part of the Better Together campaign.

More significantly in the New Statesman, Keiran Pedley makes the extraordinary, tone-deaf argument that To govern again, Labour must do a deal with the SNP and focus on England. Apart from anything else this suggestion is one giant arithmetical error, because there is only one deal the SNP want, and if they get it then the total number of seats they deliver for a future Labour-led government is zero. But the suggestion is also an appalling capitulation that suggests throwing under the bus not only Labour activists in Scotland, but the half million Labour voters who have stayed with us.

Most critically of all, both these articles, and the many other comments that echo similar themes, betray a fundamental misunderstanding of who the SNP are and what they stand for. The SNP are not social democrats. They fought the Scottish election on a platform of eagerly passing on Tory austerity rather than using the powers they demanded to make different choices. They joined forces with the Tories in the Scottish Parliament to vote down Labour’s progressive budget amendment. The leading think tank IPPR Scotland analysed the major parties’ tax plans and showed that the SNP’s economic policy barely deviates from George Osborne’s austerity budget.

And the SNP’s past record is not that of the centre left party some see them as either. They trumpet free university tuition as their key left-wing credential, but the reality for students, especially those from the poorest backgrounds, has been more debt and less attainment. And the glaring truth is that free university tuition, which favours the better off, has been provided at the cost of 150,000 college places. (By the way – this is another instance of the SNP following Tory policy.) And that’s before we look at the slashed funding for schools which is leading to fewer teachers, crowded classrooms and lower attainment. The very people who need the most support are being denied it.

These are not social democratic policies or admirable outcomes, and the SNP is not a party Labour should look to as an ally or an inspiration. It is the party of Scottish nationalism. It wears whatever clothes it must to achieve its single aim of independence. Sometimes it might look like our friend from a distance, but in close-up its strategy is designed to destroy and supplant Scottish Labour in order to win independence. The SNP is executing a “kill Labour” strategy in Scotland. It is the opposite of an ally.

And while we’re exploding myths, let’s just be clear that Scottish independence is not a fun idea for lefties to dream about the creation of a new Utopia. It is a threat to the wellbeing of working people, the people our movement stands with and stands for. We stood against independence because we stand for solidarity and because nationalism acts against social justice. And if you think what matters more is who stood next to us while we made that argument, you’re simply buying our opponents’ spin.

Far too often, comrades who have a national platform think they know better than us on the basis of how Scottish politics is broadly presented in the media, rather than from personal experience or understanding. One MP told me at the Progress conference that I should listen to people who know how to win elections. I have news for him: he was sitting next to one.

We are a movement. We should have each other’s backs. So why, after urgent and repeated entreaties not to, did the Fabian Society press ahead during the stress of an existential-threat election campaign with publishing and heavily promoting Kez’s throwaway “it’s not inconceivable” line on a hypothetical post-Brexit independence? Why did an organisation at the heart of our movement insist on hyping that up and delivering the single most damaging press story of the Scottish Labour election campaign?

To major on that was both inaccurate and dismissive of every other statement Kez and others have made. The Scottish Labour Party couldn’t be clearer that we will defend Scotland within the UK as that’s the right thing to do both practically and ideologically. I ask myself if the Fabian Society would have done to Sadiq Khan what they did to Kezia Dugdale, and I find it very hard to imagine they might.

I’m afraid that too much of the comfortable centre of our national party has so little grasp on the reality of Scottish politics that not only can it not see when it is being damaging, it still thinks it knows better even when we are shouting down the phone at it.

And this is our own fault, for letting the ties between us and the exchanges of understanding become so threadbare. We must remember that gone are the days when 40 MPs and their staff took Labour insight up and down the East and West Coast main lines twice a week. We need urgently to reinforce the sharing of knowledge and insight across our UK party.  We all have much to learn from each other about the similarities and differences in our challenges and opportunities.

One thing a trip to Scotland might teach is that Kezia Dugdale is absolutely right in this fifth Scottish Parliament session to pitch Scottish Labour’s tent firmly in the ground of non-constitutional politics. It is brave and it makes long-term sense. It means engaging with those who sincerely seek social justice and were persuaded into thinking independence could deliver it. It means tirelessly and methodically demonstrating that social justice does not depend on where powers sit but on what we do with them.

And if it means getting sand kicked in our face for a time by our constitutionally obsessed opponents in the SNP and the Tories, so be it. Such is politics. But when the people calling Scottish Labour a “steaming turd” are our own comrades? When Scotland is written off as lost forever by our own people? Our family urgently needs reminded of what common cause means.

Labour exists to build solidarity and achieve more together than we can alone. That doesn’t mean we must all speak with one voice, but it does mean we should seek out and respect the different parts of our party across the UK. And crucially it means we should listen to the folk who know their patch, and trust their insight, not belittle or override it from the centre.

Scottish Labour is not a cypher for internal squabbles. We are not disposable and we are not about to give up. We are your comrades, and we need you to listen.

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30 thoughts on “Labour is one party – and it’s not just Scotland that needs to remember it

  1. Great article. Fracturing our movement plays exactly into the hands of those who wish to destroy us. The plan for Scottish Labour has to be a fully integrated part of the the plan for UK Labour as a whole, and needs to be strategic for the long term, and not one of chasing short-term tactical wins that get us nowhere.

    1. Can I point out the irony of you distinguishing between “Scottish Labour” and “UK Labour”.

  2. College places – the 150,000 figure is part time/ leisure courses – cut to provide actual full time courses that have a prospect of leading to work. The numbers are down the FTE isn’t, otherwise there would have been mass college closures – there haven’t been.

    “The SNP is executing a “kill Labour” strategy in Scotland. It is the opposite of an ally.”
    unecessary – Labour are operating a suicide strategy and as the Sun Tzu said ” never interrupt your enemy while he is making a mistake” take the “Snoopers charter” and the “Ban on Fraking”, for/against trident as cases in point.

    Labour councils have been in control of teacher numbers and the moderation and implementation of the new qualifications – with sole responsibility for remedial action over the past decade and, until only recently have had budgets protected – the blame of staffing lies at Labour’s feet.

    The electorate gave their judgement on your progressive tax policy – that should be clear enough but doesn’t seem to be.

    To say that the national party has lost its sense of Scottish politics when the “Scottish Party” has increasingly been rejected by the electorate to the point where there is only 20% support shows an amazing lack of self awareness.

  3. “Labour is one party – and it’s not just Scotland that needs to remember it”

    Its only “Scottish labour” who are claiming it isn’t. Is it “Scottish labour” or Labour in Scotland Duncan?

  4. “A few weeks ago I took part in a panel discussion entitled How does Labour represent a multi-nation democracy”

    That’s fascinating cos it wasn’t that long ago you were arguing that the UK was a single Nation State.

  5. There is so much wrong with that article I am absolutely positive you wont allow me to highlight it all. Utter drivel once again Duncan you’re really earning your online rep.

  6. The “Scottish Greens” rightly call themselves the “Scottish Greens” in order to distinguish and separate themselves politically from the Greens in the rUK. Isnt that why “Scottish labour” does it as well? They want the Scottish electorate to believe they only represent Scotlands best interests not the UKs.
    Like I said its only “Scottish Labour” who are claiming they are distinct from their rUK comrades. Nobody else actually believes it.

  7. “Labour is one party – and it’s not just Scotland that needs to remember it”

    “The Scottish Labour Party couldn’t be clearer that we will defend Scotland within the UK”

    Can you truly not see or understand the in your face direct contradiction here Duncan?

  8. So is there to be a “North British” Labour Party? Somehow I doubt our friends down south would become the “South British” Labour Party.
    You cannot make a deal with the SNP because ” there is one deal the SNP want and if they get it…….”—-yet Labour has made pacts with the SDLP for decades—remind me again what they stand for? Oh yes, Irish self government, and if they get it………………….?
    Sadly the article is like that-lacking insight, self awareness or even common sense. Labour has a hard road to travel; opinions like this dont help.

    One more thing. Keir Hardie believed in Scottish Home Rule. Dominion Status, like New Zealand or Australia etc.
    I presume Duncan would NOT have made a pact with Keir Hardie!

  9. A Swiss doctor Elizabeth Kuber Ross once postulated the idea that grief could be broken down into five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
    after reading Duncan’s article I am afraid to say he has a long way to go. Sounds as if he is still stuck on base one.
    If only he had taken my advice way back in 2012, things might have been so different.

    1. Ok. I know you want to ken what I said to Duncan 4 years ago. It was at the time when Alec Salmond offered Labour the chance to put their option on the ballot paper of the up and coming Scottish referendum ballot paper. It was a chance for Scottish Labour to offer a third way; instead of a simple Yes/No SL had the chance to be central to the constitutional question.
      I tried everything short of begging to convince Duncan and others on Labourhame to grasp the opportunity but they ignored the advice.
      It was a turning point for SL. Had those that rubbished this advice, those that said the offer was a nationalist trap, a safety net for Salmond, listened to the logic of the argument, SL would not be in the crisis they now find themselves. If Labour in scotland had thought independently it would have still been at the forfront of Scottish politics . In fact they would probably be in government in Scotland.
      So please no more finger pointing, SL has only itself to blame for the present mess it is in. That it finds itself now ridiculed by their own, is because they did not believe in themselves, and as they have always done they put the interest of Labour HQ above all else. You sow what you reap. Suck it up.

      1. The only problem with your lovely little story is that it’s bollocks.

        You were hardly the only person chuntering on about having a second question in indyref. Loads of folk were arguing for it. And frankly I don’t remember you saying anything to me about it, though I’m prepared to believe you might have done.

        If you did, what I would have said at the time (because this is what I did say at the time) was that the third option, which was being called things like “Devo Max”, would have required a collaborative process to define it, much like the Scottish Constitutional Convention, if it was actually to be successfully agreed upon. A “Devo Max” option defined by one party would have had no legitimacy. And we know it’s not a simple thing to define and it’s open to wide criticism from all sides, as the later experience of the Smith Commission proves.

        I would also have pointed out that the SNP had a mandate for a Yes/No independence referendum, not an amend-Devo referendum, so there would have been potential challenges to it.

        And most substantially I would have pointed out that the public consultation on the referendum question – you know, the one you guys consistently pretend never happened – came back with a clear backing for a single Yes/No question on the issue of independence only. And of course every party to the Edinburgh Agreement – the Scottish Government and the UK Government, and all the political parties comprising them – also backed a single Yes/No question.

        So you can pretend to yourself that you had all the answers if you like. And you can pretend it’s all Labour’s stupid fault for not listening to you. But that is, and will always remain, purest bollocks.

        1. Enjoyed reading a thoughtful interesting article a few comments the problem for the SNP and Labour Party is that both the supporters of the parties say that people should vote to remain in the EU and the word should is problematic and will backfire for the reason that the vibes I pick up in my job that involves traveling throughout Scotland on a daily basis is that the people are fed up with the elected representatives of all parties saying should vote instead one way or an other instead of recommending a particular view and letting the the people themselves then consider then decide which way to vote. The Parliamentary Labour Party are in danger of turning into a party that does not listen to the people and its only saving grace that it is a party in support of the United Kingdom it is also a broad church so it is great to see that some Labour MPs John Mann and Dennis Skinner listen to their constituents and take their side by supporting Brexit. As for the SNP they are in for a shock and a double whammy Nicola Sturgeon choose to share a platform with a Tory Amber Rudd to give the impression that if there is a vote for Brexit then she can call another referendum well I predict that there will be a vote for Brexit and the majority of people in Scotland will vote for Brexit so that cannot be used as an excuse for a second indyref and another reason the people can also see a failing Euro zone mass unemployment in southern Europe and a failing Euro currency and an independent Scotland as part of joining the EU have to accept the Euro currency as opposed to the pound so it will never happen it is fantasy politics in Scotland a Brexit vote in the EU referendum by the majority of the people of Scotland will ensure the continuation of a Scotland remaining as part of the United Kingdom.

          1. Problem is Ted Scotland doesn’t look close to voting for Brexit. In fact it may be the Scottish vote which keeps the UK in the EU.
            That will be an interesting scenario. We could very well have England screaming for their Independence from the UK.

            Ill happily take it either way.

        2. Still labour and the other unionist parties in Scotland were offered an opportunity to present a third option, yet chose not to do it. Instead they were happy to allow a tory Westminster to do the talking for them.

        3. Don’t speculate on what I said and what you would probably have replied Duncan. Go and check the articles. John Rudy was another name I recall and Peter Russell. They were adamant that it had to be a straightforward Yes/No. To dismiss such a generous offer just because of the source was more than short sighted, it was pure dumb.
          So go and check who is talking bollocks. Go and re-read John, Peter and your part in Labour’s downfall. It could be the basis of a good article.
          This is healthy Duncan. I think your moving to the second stage of grief.

          1. I didn’t speculate, Richard. I set out what I said at the time to the many people who made that point. And the upshot was that it *did* have to be a Yes/No vote. A “Devo Max” option defined by a single party in a few months would not have been credible. You’re not addressing any of my arguments, you’re just repeating your assertion. I set out three key reasons why it wouldn’t have worked.

  10. “There is a creeping tendency to see Scotland as ‘other’ “, has the curtains finally opened Duncan that you are the ‘other’ , and that you have always been perceived by down south as ‘other’. When one of your own Scottish party leaders tells the world you are nothing more than a “branch office” to London that means ‘other’.

    Maybe you should stop worrying about what down south thinks about you and worry more about what Scotland thinks about you and your party.

    In your article its funny how all the problems of labour in Scotland appear to be the fault of the SNP and if not the SNP its the voters, why is it not the fault of the labour party’s messages and actions both past and present. Just watch Iain Greys performance in yesterdays FM question time, he was more concerned at having a cheap shot at the SNP than checking the facts, boy did he get his earse handed back to him for that.

    It was a typical labour stunt and typically it backfired, its not listening that’s labours problem, its learning.

  11. “Problem is Ted Scotland doesn’t look close to voting for Brexit. In fact it may be the Scottish vote which keeps the UK in the EU.”

    Mike if there is a UK Brexit and as part of the breakdown of the votes the majority of people in Scotland voted in favour of Brexit then it follows that the Scottish people are in favour of remaining us part of the United Kingdom do you agree?

  12. Duncan 1.47,
    This was 2012 we are talking about, not a few months before. Labour had plenty of time to agree on a second question and plenty of time to pull together an alliance. Had Labour done so the devo max/federal option would have won the referendum out the park. In so doing Labour would also have been seen to set the agenda post 18.09.14, formulating a uniquely Labour vision different from the nationalists and the Tories.
    The question you have to ask is why they didn’t. My take on it is that Labour unity was seen to be more important, and that proposing a distinctive middle ground would have been seen as somehow disloyal. It would have been seen by HQ as SL putting country before party.
    Anyway we can argue this to the cows the home Duncan. The reality is that the weight of evidence supports my theory. SL are an unrecognisable hollowed out shell of their former self, no longer of significence in Scotland. Come May 2017 they will be gone. As I say, I think you underestimate the roll Labourhame played in that catastrophy. Labourhame was to my knowledge the only pro Labour staunchly pro unionist site about. As editor Duncan you should accept the part you played.

    1. Yeah, was definately Labour’s fault, and Duncan’s in particular, that the Tories,the SNP amd the whole country rejected the prospect of a second question. And thank goodness for that.

  13. I don’t think you understand the situation circa 2012. Salmond offered Labour, the second party in Scotland the chance to propose a second question. The Tories, and ‘the whole country’ did not have a say in it. It was Labour’s choice. They rejected it. Labourhame was the internet voice. You may think that the cost was worth it, Labour laid down its life for the union. My point is, it did not have to be this way.

    1. Absolute codswallop. But you seem very wedded to this false version of history. Whatever helps you get through the day, I guess.

      1. To be fair to Duncan I know he personally was always against a third question back in 2012, I know this because it was over this subject that I first engaged with Duncan on the labourhame site.

        It took me about six attempts to get Duncan to admit that the Scottish voter had the right to have a third question if it was presented. It was like trying to nail down an eel on steroids before he finally admitted it. That’s why I never forgot about it.

        The labour party was given an opportunity to present a devo-max option as their was a few people on all sides querying about a need for it, but in the end they refused to do it.

        1. So you’ve decided just to ignore the fact that the Scottish and UK governments were against a second question, the public were against a second question, and the time to develop a meaningful further devolution proposal was unavailable.

          This all suggests to me that you simply refuse to listen to reason.

          1. The Scottish and UK governments may have been against a second question but the public was not and the Scottish government realised this and offered the chance to present a second question to labour and they refused to do so.

            And they had plenty of time to do it.

          2. A public consultation was run to assess the public’s opinion. It came back clearly in favour of there being a single question. It also noted high levels of concern among respondents over the definition of “Devo Max” should a second question be included. You can read the full consultation analysis here:


            I re-assert, therefore, with evidence, that the public were against a second question.

      2. Ok. You don’t agree with me. But something happened. There has to be a reason. Political parties don’t just disappear. Its fair comment to say Labour in Scotland have been pushed out by the SNP and the Tories. I’m trying to explain why. Is there anything Labour could have done to prevent this?
        Nobody I don’t think forsaw the bounce the SNP got from loosing the referendum, equally nobody saw the hammering Labour would take from winning it. That is the question I am posing. Why did that happen and was there any one critical moment or decision that eventually lead to what looks like a total collapse in SL’s support.
        I think the error was not taking up the offer of crafting and then supporting a second question. A Labour alternative. Leaving the referendum as a binary question ultimately lead to Labour’s irrelevance. that is my opinion. What is yours?
        Duncan less of the bollocks and codswallops, whatever that is, what about a bit of analysis. As I keep saying, until you face up to what went wrong you are still in denial.

  14. ‘There is a creeping tendency to see Scotland as other’. Yes, yes there is. This is one of the main reasons why so many have come to see independence from Westminster as the best bet. It’s nothing to do with nationality or race, and little to do with currency, or even the wider economy. It’s the realisation that Scotland and the people that live here matter very little, and our votes count for even less, within the imbalance of the UK as a political structure.

    And now that you are recognising that a very similar thing is happening even within your own party, perhaps you’ll begin to recognise the imbalance within the UK that has moved so many other former Labour voters to pursue independence. As a result, trying to strike a path of ‘non-constitutional politics’ (no matter how well-intentioned) just isn’t going to interest those voters. Consequently, the best – maybe even only – chance of achieving the kind of turnaround in the fortunes of Labour in Scotland any time soon would be within an independent parliament.

    1. You appreciate that for me and many others – the vast majority of the Labour Party, and a healthy majority of Scots – the answer is to work to repair the split, not surrender to it?

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