Separation is (still) not the answer

gemma doyleGemma Doyle, former MP for West Dumbartonshire, says we rightly fought to keep the UK together and it would be a slap in the face to now choose to split the Labour Party.


The Scottish Labour Party is once again reviewing its structures and internal decision making. Hands up who thinks that the answer to our current predicament lies in reshuffling our decision making processes? Anybody? No, didn’t think so.

Worse than that, the basis of the consultation is flawed. The email to party members says that despite our record on devolving power to Scotland with the creation of the Scottish Parliament, we didn’t devolve power internally as a party. That’s just not true. The Scottish Policy forum was established long ago to reflect the new devolution settlement, and changes have continued to be made, most recently following the 2011 party review carried out by Sarah Boyack and Jim Murphy, which among other things established the position of Leader of the Scottish Labour Party and led to the reorganisation of CLPs on Scottish Parliament boundaries. Again, hands up anyone who is shocked that this alone didn’t lead to resounding victory? No-one? OK, let’s continue.

Scottish Labour’s demise is the combination of long and short-term factors. The short term is obvious. The referendum re-set Scottish politics and many of our voters left us because we were on a different side to them in the debate. Whilst deeply regrettable, and as someone who lost my seat in the ensuing tsunami, it was a price worth paying to keep the UK together, and anyone who thinks there was an obvious, realistic way of doing it differently which would have led to a different outcome for the Labour Party is kidding themselves.

The long term requires a harder look at ourselves. That is a post for another day, but what it does not include is either never-ending tinkering with our structures, or, and this is the important bit, splitting off from the rest of the Labour Party.

I am frankly raging as I write this. Having fought tooth and nail to keep the UK together, and seen the Scottish Labour Party nearly die in the process, it would be a slap in the face to decide to organise ourselves as though Scotland were independent.

And I have a confession. I love the Labour Party. It is a big messy family, and dear Lord do we need some counselling, but our members and supporters are with us because of our values. Because of the things we believe in, not because of where our computer systems are based.

If the Scottish Labour Party decides to be separate, then the UK Labour Party is going to need to set up a Scottish branch for the members who want to stay with Labour. Then we really will have a branch office.

I wait with anticipation to hear what policy the Scottish Labour Party wanted to adopt which we couldn’t because we were part of the Labour Party; what organisational change we would have made; what new direction we would have taken. The truth is the recent election campaign was made and executed in Scotland. And where Scottish Labour decided to pursue a different policy on a reserved issue we ended up in a quagmire with voters completely confused about where we stood. The consultation accepts that Scottish Labour will have separate policy on reserved issues. That in itself is a major break-away from Labour and has never been agreed by the membership.

Where we do rely on the national party is for money and non-financial support (including in the form of amazing Labour Party organisers). All our campaign tools, our membership system, the constitution unit are developed and run centrally, for the benefit of the Labour Party in every part of England, in Wales and in Scotland. Long before UK Labour’s recent fundraising woes, Scottish Labour was finding donors’ doors closed to us. So whoever is pushing this agenda better have a good answer for where the extra money is going to come from as we wave the rest of our Labour family goodbye.

And it’s not just money, but influence. Walk out of the Labour Party and you walk away from directly influencing reserved policy matters in this country. You relegate the Scottish Labour Party to a pressure group on anything not devolved to Scotland. And you certainly wouldn’t have a vote in the Labour Party leadership election.

If we start to organise ourselves as though Scotland were independent we play into the hands of those who want a separate Scotland and we accept their view of the world. We relegate Scotland to add-on status rather than an integral part of these isles.

Our political influence and role in the UK would move closer to that of Northern Ireland, with voters electing their constituency MP and deciding on the balance of power there, but with their vote (in most cases) not directly influencing who the government should be.

There is no easy answer to Scottish Labour’s woes. But splitting up the Labour Party isn’t it.


The consultation runs until 17 June 2016 and you can make a submission here.

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24 thoughts on “Separation is (still) not the answer

  1. All well and good dear but it would be more helpful if Labour in Scotland didn’t keep referring to themselves as Scottish labour if you don’t want to be autonomous.
    You only have the right to refer to yourselves as Scottish if you choose to be autonomous from the rUK. Brown got it right when he referred to himself as North British.
    If that’s what you feel you are then tell the world and stop trying to be something you clearly are not.

  2. I think the deck chair looks better over there. No wait a minute, Gemma put it back where it was. Thats funny it keeps sliding….whys it doing that?

  3. I’m glad someone else is raging. If it’s a choice and I am in the process of trying to unravel what exactly the choices are, why and where they came from, then I will choose to be part of the real branch office – yes that’s the one that gave me a free higher education the one that gave me a free NHS the one that opened real opportunity for all through the Open University and it was the one that fought and fought and fought again against the evils of nationalism.That’s my Labour Party.

    1. And may it rest in peace since its demise in 1987. But grieve not as the SNP continues this good work with gusto.
      You want what the SNP offers but cant resign yourself to acknowledge that labour doesn’t.

      That’s just sad.

      1. ..”as the SNP continues this good work”…exactly….the SNP is living off the 60 years reservoir of social progress filled by the Labour party and the Labour movement..unless there is an injection of some progressive policies then the clock is ticking… a matter of fact, it is true that the Conservative party has a better track record of introducing social reforms than the SNP…I can’t think of a single progressive social policy introduced by this SNP ScotGov…can you name one?…[

        1. ..”as the SNP continues this good work”…exactly….the SNP is living off the 60 years reservoir of social progress filled by the Labour party and the Labour movement..”

          Not according to Labour they aint. You’re off party message Ronnie. Its SNP bad not SNP being Labour.

          The greatest progressive thing the SNP has ever done for Scotland was to remove the Red Tories from power and influence.

          Unlike Labour the SNP support nationalised public services are anti Trident anti tuition fees anti universal tax increases anti targeted austerity still believe in universal benefits and welfare.

          You don’t get more progressive than that.

        2. Wether or not the SNP is living on a reservoir of social progress set up by the Labour Party or not, is not the question.The question is whether the Labour Party can provide a credible vehicle for social change in Scotland let alone the rest of the UK in the immediate future, or even medium term. The problem is no matter what you are thinking internally there are not many in the wider Scotland who see it the same way as you do.
          Gemma Doyle believes that the near death experience of the Labour Party in Scotland was worth it to save the United Kingdom.
          If that is where you are, fine. I don’t believe that is a situation which has got a long term future in Scotland (yes I am a Nat) but Scotland is going to need a party of the moderate left. If you are simply looking to the maintenance of the United Kingdom then that probably puts you are odds with the aspirations of many people in Scotland who don’t believe that the Westminster bubble is capable of producing social justice. Had you merely lost even all the seats in Scotland and therefore lost the last Election then you might have been able to argue that the Westminster system as a United Kingdom could bring social advance, but that is not true. It was the people of the UK as a whole who rejected Labour.
          The question keeps on being asked what it the Labour Party for? According to Gemma Doyle it is to defend the UK at the cost of its own life. What if it is to work for social justice in Scotland. What if it is to revery to the positions of the original founders of Labour who wanted Home Rule? (and home rule was merely strong devolution). The problem is not that you are a branch office, but that you seen to have subordinated the interests of the people of Scotland to that if the Ruling Class in the South of England. You are not going to get your voters back on that basis.

  4. Does Labour call the USA 4th of July celebration as Separation Day ?, When you left home and became independent from your parents – did you seperate from them ? The way in which the Labour Party in Scotland uses the word “separation” when talking about independence, be it parties or countries is unnerving, it suggests there is something akin to a psychological illness in the party. An unwillingness to see Scotland as a country at all. You suggest that should there be a Labour Party in Scotland you would choose to remain in the Labour Party of the UK instead. Perhaps from that you can sense what voters do, that your priorities are the UK, and not Scotland. Whats good for London is not always good for Scotland, in fact it seems less and less so, focus on infrastructure investement in London does not ‘trickle north’ to Scotland, it does not even get anywhere near Manchester. “Separation is (still) not the answer”, may be your position and I agree, but Independance is an answer and a good one and 190 countries throughout the world have found it to be the way to ensure better and fairer governance.

  5. Voters who feel Scottish Labour being a key part of the larger UK party is a problem are few and far between. What’s more, voters who think it’s an issue tend to be evangelical and unquestioning supporters of the SNP. Why pander to them, when it’s the other 90% (or so) of the Scottish public we need to convince?

    Instead, we need to establish ourselves as a credible & progressive force in Scottish politics. Kezia is taking us in that direction, but she still needs more time and support from all of us.

    1. You’ll find the SNP command a far greater support than 10% in Scotland unlike Labour in Scotland or what passes itself off these days as Labour in Scotland.

      You’ll see how convincing you are after the local council elections.

      1. Mike,
        do you think more than 10% of Scots are “evangelical and unquestioning supporters of the SNP”? Really?

  6. I’ve rarely heard such an ‘I know better than you’ article on here.

    That’s your problem, right there; you don’t know better and your attempts to belittle others that do is obnoxious, crass and futile.

  7. “If the Scottish Labour Party decides to be separate, then the UK Labour Party is going to need to set up a Scottish branch for the members who want to stay with Labour. Then we really will have a branch office.”

    Gemma I think that maybe you should keep the current office and the new independent party could move out and rent a new office or meantime until the finances of the divorce are agreed you could both share the office.

  8. Great article Gemma.

    The leadership of the Scottish Labour Party is truly woeful and those skulking about to replace them are even worse.

    Our tax policies stink. Our stance on the creation of Police Scotland (a police state) and the Named Person Scheme are a disgrace.

    Now unbelievably, the leadership who led us to THIRD place at the Scottish elections, are intent on further appeasing the nationalists.

    In fact, the electorate have decided that we are not even good enough to be the opposition party anymore.

    You could give these people 20 years and they still wouldn’t turn it round.

  9. Andy,

    Lot of passion there – but what are your views on improving the situation that Labour now find themselves in?

    1. Stephen,

      The Labour Movement was built on our ability to offer protection to ordinary people.

      We no longer offer ordinary people protection. We are largely a party for the public sector, the politically correct and other assorted middle class do gooders.

      If we don’t stand up for ordinary people, we stand for nothing.

      The free movement of labour within the European Union is a case in point. Mass immigration brings down wages, puts a strain on services and increases house prices and rents. The old Labour Party would have stamped this out years ago and protected our people from these free market policies.

      This EU referendum was a golden opportunity for the Labour Party to set out a vision for a new Europe. Instead, we have the word “change” banded about in a cheap and hollow way. We are basically told to be grateful for “workers rights”, is that the right to have your wages undercut or your right to a zero hour contract?

      To be honest, our party could not be more disconnected from the hopes and fears of ordinary people if it tried.

      No wonder we’re going down the pan.

      I wrote this article a while ago, it’s a more positive vision for the people.

  10. Leaving the UK party would be pointless, self harmful and insincere.

    It would be an ideological collapse into nationalism from which the party could never recover. If the Labour Party in Scotland votes to secede from The Labour Party it will not take me with it as a member.

    Fortunately I do not think it will happen.

    I have said it before on these pages; we should stop kidding ourselves that previous labour voters now in thrall to the nationalists, and to the idea of independence, are available to us. Not for a very long time. Their central concern is to secure Scotland’s deaprture from the United Kingdom. Given that this position is contrary to Labour Party policy they will not (will. not.) vote Labour. Internal re-organisations as a sop to the nationalist rupture in our historical vote are meaningless to them. Their champions, the SNP, do not even field candidates in England Wales and NI. The thin gruel of a Scottish Labour Party that didn’t support independence would be unappealing to them.

    Given that the majority of the country favours remaining in the Union, given that that position is party policy, given that preserving Scotland in the Union is demonstrably in Scotland’s interests, why pander to the central contention of the bloc of voters who will not vote for us, who quite viscerally in some cases, hate the Labour Party? It is completely non-sensical.

    1. Why? Because quite simply you will never be relevant again without them.


      You will simply whither, and eventually die. The contempt in the words “in thrall” shows you’ll deserve to.

      1. I meant no offence by using the words “in thrall”. “Enthused by” or “enthralled by” would possibly have been more accurate.

        That the labour party will struggle to again govern alone in Scotland without the return of former voters is something on which I think we agree. Do we not also agree that an internal re-organisation is unlikely to attract them back?

  11. As I commented elsewhere on here, there will be no independence Scottish Labour Party( Keir Hardie was there first).
    It has not enough members, or outside financiers to fund a “Political Party”.
    “Scottish” Labour hasn’t got the nous, or policies, or focussed direction to be a “Political Party”
    As a group of people, Labour in Scotland are a pretty disparate bunch, split on many issues with a shallow and low profile leadership elite. Just read this and previous contributions on this site—and fine, Labour Hame is not “Scottish” Labour, but it is a pointer to some of the problems of “Scottish ” Labour.
    “Scottish” Labour are third choice in elections for a reason.
    “Scottish” Labour are feart o’ the dark, and NEED London to hold their hand.

  12. “If the Scottish Labour Party decides to be separate, then the UK Labour Party is going to need to set up a Scottish branch for the members who want to stay with Labour. Then we really will have a branch office.”

    Surely you can see that statements already makes “Scottish Labour” a branch office.

    You don’t want to be independent from UK Labour so Just call yourselves UK Labour and drop the pretense you have been masquerading under.

    We all know that there is no such thing as “Scottish Labour” anyway

  13. If Scot Lab supports independence first from the national Labour Party, and then attempts to win back the third who deserted it for the SNP by supporting Scottish indy, it is going alienate a very large proportion of it remaining support base – the pro-UK one!
    Not only will it haemorrhage support from the pro-UK Lab supporters, it will simply be squeezed out altogether by the SNP. Why vote indy Scot Lab when you can have the real deal in the SNP???
    Any attempt to turn Scot Lab into an Scottish indy party will see a severe backlash from the silent majority voters… This is why Scot Lab came third in the Holyrood election, because around ten percent of Scot Lab support left it to vote TORY because of Dugdale’s gaffe, the Trident issue and the fact it seems to be obsessed with getting indy supporters back rather than those who remain! This is all backed up by social media. Every time Scot Lab makes a gaffe, like the above you see long term Lab activists, supporters and voters raging at the direction those at the top of the party are perceived to be heading.
    Another point I’s like to make is the woeful campaigning practices of Scot Lab in recent years.
    I do social media marketing and PR and I am heavily involved in politics behind the scenes.
    So I’d like to point out a few things that will help Scot Lab in the future.
    A) Scot Lab’s social media presence is an utter joke. It simply has not got its head around the correct use of social media as a campaign tool!
    Social media IS the place to campaign today – something that the nationalists know very well.
    If you look at the statistics for example on Facebook it is startling how far behind Scot Lab really is on this vital campaign tool.
    This week Scot Lab’s own FB page has had TWO posts on it!!!! And it has reached 158 people!!!
    This is NOT how you use social media such as Facebook. It is NOT a part time, just for elections tool. It should be used every single day, day in day out, week in week out, to consistently get the message across. Every single thing that Scot Lab is doing should posted in a steady stream of material, every newspaper article and opinion piece should be posted, every single attack from wherever on its political enemies should be posted, memes should be continually be created and posted as well as vids etc.
    Why? Because you can reach more people through social media today than you ever will through old fashion leafleting!
    Social media marketing works through a drip drip method of continually pushing messages. You simply cannot start and stop with this or you have to go from a cold start every time. If you are NOT doing this then you simply lose the interest of those on social media.
    IT NEEDS TO EMPLOY A PROFESSIONAL TO DO THIS! Why because at the moment Scot Lab’s social media output and skills are frankly not even at the level of rank amateur…
    Another point – Scot Lab needs to reorganise itself on the ground. Having spoken to a number of activists it is clear that Scot Lab is not running a on ground street campaign in a professional way compared to the nationalists. It is badly organised and badly run.
    Interestingly I spoke to a guy who used to be an SNP activist but who is now a Lab member. And he said the difference is astounding between the two parties. The SNP are slick, well organised and professional while the Scot Lab are quite frankly a shambles, he said.
    Now, putting aside the council elections, Scot Lab has four to five years (depending on which election we are looking at) to turn its fortunes around. It does NOT need to navel gaze about either the constitution of the UK or its own internal structures viz the national party. What it does need to do is hold its nerve, because the nats are in decline and the direction of political travel is now against them (Swinney’s majority down from 16,000 to 3000, for example) and build its pro-UK credential back up by pushing a socialist solidarity approach to the constitution. In other words a: “I support the UK because I came into politics to help pensioners in Penrith as well as Perth…” rhetoric. It also need to reorganise its campaigning on social media and on the ground so it becomes much more professional. And lastly but not least, it needs to show that in reality it is the OPPOSITION to the nats, and not the Tories. In other words out opposition the Tories!

  14. Phil, I agree with almost everything you say about Labour being a shambles but the bold statement you make “the nats are in decline” is almost delusional. Although the SNP lost their majority, their vote increased. That’s the reality. I used to vote Labour & celebrated for days when Labour won in ’97. After 13 years in power you couldn’t say that you did your best for the poorest areas of the country. Mostly, if not all were Labour constituencies and had been since my granny was a bairn.
    You can say what you like about Labour not being slick on social media but believe me, that isn’t the problem. The main problem with my old party is the perceived self interest of the people who run it. It was OK when Scotland would vote Labour unthinkingly and the votes weren’t counted but weighed, to coin an old cliche. The heavy engineering, shipbuilding, coalmines, factories employing tens of thousands who would have all been natural Labour voters have gone. The class struggle is consigned to history, the world has moved on. Labour clubs, once the heart of many communities are used by the elderly with no young blood to take their place.

    I voted Yes in the referendum and I was quite shocked by Labour’s description of people like me. People who had voted Labour but hoped for a different future for their country were abused and labelled blood and soil nationalists and xenophobes and worse! I am one ex Labour voter who would never consider voting for Labour again. I know very many people who think the same. No amount of tech savvy online content pumping out negative messages about your enemies will save you. The Party’s over

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