Daniel Johnson, chair of Scottish Fabians and Labour’s candidate for 2016 in Edinburgh Southern, says Scottish Labour – to fulfil its purpose – must remain part of UK Labour.
Let’s be clear, Westminster is just a place, it’s not a pejorative term.
Through the referendum campaign, “Westminster” was banded about in such a way that one would be forgiven for thinking that it was dark centre of the universe itself. It’s not. It’s just a place where politics happens. As a party interested in influencing, changing and delivering through politics, we must not wield it as a term of abuse.
I was very sorry to see Johann resign. At every meeting I have had with her, at every event I have heard her speak, I have been struck by a sincere politics grounded in personal values that was uniquely hers.
Her task as leader was a difficult. Attempting to rebuild a shattered party after the 2011 defeat while mounting a referendum defence was a political challenge none would envy. Grappling with the reform needed in the party in Scotland while navigating the new relationship with the wider UK party given to her by the 2011 review amplified that.
Scottish Labour must be free to set policy and govern itself in Scotland. And if Johann was frustrated in her attempts to lead and set the political agenda for Labour in Scotland, it must be condemned. But as we move forward we must not yield to the cries for full autonomy or separation. We are a party that fights UK elections and organises across the UK: we must not apologise for it.
One of the fundamental reasons I fought for a ‘No’ vote in the referendum is that decisions made in the rest of the UK will always impact us here in Scotland. Our economy, culture and geography is such that what happens south of the Tweed will always affect life here in Scotland. The health of the Scottish economy and the jobs and livelihoods of the people working in it need a healthy UK economy.
Our common language and media mean the ideas and discussions had in other parts of these islands inform and influence us. Ultimately the politics of and decisions made in London will always impact those made in Edinburgh, whether we are linked by a constitution or not.
To make real change, lasting change, change that endures, we need to seek it across the UK not just in Scotland. Secession simply makes that change more difficult and less enduring. That is why we organise across the UK. That is why we must retain a coherent UK party with Scottish Labour having its full say within a wider UK party.
Rather than changing the party, we must restate our ambitions. We must not abandon the possibility of change of UK politics or the possibility of making lives better in all parts of the country.
Ultimately the use of the word Westminster as a pejorative is admission of defeat. It gives up on the possibility of change and the power of ideas to win argument. Has it really come to this that the Scots no longer feel they can make and win arguments in British politics?
So I feel huge sympathy for Johann. Her situation was invidious but it was one created by circumstance rather than design. And of course in the new political context in which we find ourselves in Scotland, we must look at the nature of the relationship between the Scottish party and the UK party. But refounding Scottish Labour as a separate or autonomous party would be a mistake. If we believe in change across the UK we must remain united in solidarity with our comrades across the UK.
Working together requires compromise and cooperation. If we retain our ideals of social and economic change across the UK, it means we will not always get our way, and at times we will need to make concessions. Ultimately if we believe in having a UK Prime Minister and, as Labour Party members, voting for the person seeking to hold that office for our party, we must remain united – compromises and all.