The death of Labour is a warning to the SNP

mark mclaughlinMark McLaughlin says the centre-left of the Labour Party has ridden the tiger of moral outrage, and now finds itself consumed. Centre-left politics in Scotland must not go the same way.


If the past two years has taught us anything, it is that tin-foil hats are far more in vogue than one might imagine.

Those who partake are easily identifiable. Almost always, they have multiple twibbons. The number of twibbons is often inversely proportional to their grasp on reality. They also use phrases like MSM, Westmonster, red tory, Blairite, and traitor, and frequently ask why you hate Scotland, or don’t believe in Britain.

But, above all else, they are on a moral crusade.

This self-righteous moral certitude is cultivated by the political mainstream. Ed Miliband’s Labour Party denounced the Conservative cuts to welfare, and rightly so. They were a disgrace, you see, because the Tories hate the poor and would like to see them in cages to be poked with sticks. They’re all millionaires who want to privatise the NHS so companies can profit from people being sick. And obviously they hate women too, because they have fewer female MPs than us. Heartless, sexist, evil sods, the lot of them, and they must be stopped.

If this was Batman, our side would clearly be Bruce Wayne, and they would be the Joker. Or something.

That’s not much of an exaggeration. If your supporters take what you say at face value, is it so surprising that political discourse has become so debased and angry? By voting for you, they are protecting the sick and vulnerable from being maliciously attacked – a moral cause, if ever there was one. And so, you have their votes. That was easy. Well done us. Congratulations all round. Champagne for everybody.

Except now, without a radical policy agenda from the centre-left, the rabble-rousing potency of confected moral outrage lies not in the hands of Gordon Brown or Tony Blair, but Jeremy Corbyn. And not only has he failed to produce a policy agenda, his whole political ideology is articulated in meaningless platitudes, a vacuous stream of consciousness that speaks only to the downtrodden, extremist sympathisers and affluent graduates. Needless to say, that is not an election-winning coalition. And so now, having ridden the tiger of moral outrage, the centre-left is being consumed by it.

As a supporter of Scottish independence and SNP voter, not only should I rejoice in this phenomenon (Hooray! Labour are finally destroyed! etc.), I should also be acutely familiar with confected moral outrage. For, as we know, No voters were selfish and bullied pensioners and so on. The right-wing BBC (laugh along with me, watchers of Fox News) blocked us from attaining our freedom. Scotland, poor old Scotland, you see, has been betrayed, once again, and isn’t it all shameful. When-oh-when will the humiliation by MI5 end?

But for someone who cares about centre-left politics in this country, I’ve been surprised to find that Labour’s collapse has actually driven me to despair, a little.

‘Ah-a!’, I can hear Scottish Labour folks say, ‘but the SNP aren’t even left-wing!’. Well, good. I vote for the SNP because I vote for centrist parties. Most people do. You did too, Labour people, in the thirteen years in which you actually made a difference to people’s lives. With its charismatic leader, its slick branding, its message discipline; the SNP is New Labour. Nicola Sturgeon is the heir to Blair (without the warmongering, obviously). And that’s a good thing. So, put the pitchfork down, re-sheath the battle-axe and step away from the keyboard, left-wing warriors. You were the future once.

To English Labour, who sought to emulate the electoral success of the SNP’s shiny brand of hard-leftism in a Corbynite revival: sorry to break it to you guys. Close, but no Cuban cigar.

What is different, though, is that the SNP lacks the reforming zeal of New Labour. Yes, the Iraq war was an historic catastrophe. But establishing the minimum wage, the Human Rights Act, the Equalities Act, Sure Start centres, devolution, peace in Northern Ireland, reducing child poverty and on and on it goes, is a more lengthy list of achievements than the current SNP administration can boast. Even the oft-touted free tuition policy is a triumph of virtue-signalling over actual social progress. And yet, if you were to ask most Scots who had a better record, it would be an SNP landslide.

In that context, much of Labour’s current plight is rooted in a failure to defend thirteen years of government. Even if you accept the inevitability that Blair was to be synonymous with war, that tinge of betrayal need not have polluted a decade in power. The result is a selectorate who do not see electoral success as a route to radical change.

The Blair government was certainly not a hard-left one (awards for insight, address on request), but it was a radical one. For too long, the conflation between radicalism and the hard left has been allowed to fester in the bowels of left-wing rhetoric. Those in need of radical solutions have found solace in the vacuous moral outrage of the extreme left, the very obstructionists who opposed the election-winning centrist reforms of 1997.

Raising taxes is not radical. Nationalisation of industry is not radical. Appeasement of terrorists is not radical. These are the same platitudinous tropes that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have been shouting through loud-hailers for the past 30 years. Just imagine, for a moment, the seismic events that have transformed society in that time. De-industrialisation, the advent of globalisation, increases in immigration, advancements in technology and the internet age have all reshaped British society in profound ways.

If your solutions to the problems of the working class in 2016 are the same as in 1980, that isn’t being principled, it’s being blind. And I suspect you’re just not thinking hard enough. It’s self delusion on such a scale that it makes David Icke look grounded. Extremist? Maybe. But certainly not radical.

Trust me, Corbynites, communism isn’t the Utopian idyll it’s cracked up to be – and I live in China, so I know.

As much as an analysis of the dying Labour Party, this is a warning to the SNP. Continue to encourage the perpetually outraged brigade without providing radical solutions, and it will consume you too, one day.

Many people vote SNP because, like Corbyn supporters, they hear Nicola Sturgeon eloquently articulate the inequality in this country and thus believe voting SNP is the ‘moral’ choice. She’ll correct that injustice, you see. Don’t wait until you hear ‘I didn’t leave the SNP, the SNP left me’, to embrace the kind of radicalism that tackles these injustices. Because then, it’ll be too late. And the party that replaces you may be markedly less cuddly.

One thing is clear: when Corbyn wins in September, the Labour Party is dead as political force. And Scottish Labour members are right; a more equal Scotland will be not won by the waving of flags. But it isn’t won by the waving of placards, either. If that is what UK Labour is to become, then there must be a home for the genuinely radical politics that was the beating heart of New Labour.

The thirst for radical solutions is being briefly satiated by the idea of Scottish independence, but that won’t last forever. It is essential that centrist reformers must have a new home after being cast adrift by Corbyn’s capture of the Red Rose. If the SNP can have the courage of its convictions, it could provide this new home, empowered by a new reforming zeal. If not, I might be looking for a new party, too.

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29 thoughts on “The death of Labour is a warning to the SNP

  1. On comparing the record of the SNP with New Labour’s – you’re comparing a government with an overwhelming majority in an ultimately powerful parliament (some of those achievements pre-date devolution, as does their introduction of tuition fees) with a government of a devolved legislature with a minority or small majority. Not really a useful comparison. Your assessment of Blair’s record is pretty one sided too. No mention of tuition fees, failed ID cards. If the minimum wage was so radical, how come they had to introduce tax credits to compensate for low wages?

    1. Hi David,

      You’re right, in a way, that it’s not an exercise in comparing apples to apples. But, the SNP did have a majority government, and they’ve got a party that’s pretty disciplined. They could push through radical reforms if they wanted. And would get support for other parties.

      On Blair’s record, I’m referring mainly to the early reforms. As it went on, it became increasingly authoritarian, and the ID cards were a terrible idea, and PFI are proving to be a burden on public finances. And the 90 day detention was pretty shocking too.

      On the minimum wage, you sortve made my point for me. They made a radical reform, minimum wage, then when it wasn’t quite as effective as they’d hope, they made another. People always talk about Blair accepting Thatcher’s reforms, but the Conservatives could never seriously repeal the minimum wage. In fact, they plan on raising it in this parliament, I think. If you’re really suggesting the minimum wage wasn’t a proper achievement, then I just disagree with you.

      But I’m mainly referring to public sector reforms.

  2. For the love of God will somebody somewhere please put up something on this blog that isnt pure unadulterated mind-blowing fact starved PISH!

    WTF is wrong with you people? If you have to resort to this level of soul destroying imbellic prose in order to fail miserably to convince anybody you have a point of view then change yer point of view!

    I honestly cant be arsed to go through this cesspit of unthinking click bait in order to point out the multitude of inaccuracies and spine chilling bare faced lying so I will leave it here.

    Good luck to anybody who wants to delve into this shite.

    1. Thanks for your input, Mike. You’ll be a loss to the comments section.

  3. Given your admiration for what the Labour party achieved when in power (and rightly so). I’m curious as to why you vote SNP and support independence? Thanks.

    1. Hi Peter.

      I started to vote SNP when Labour stopped being the radical reforming party. ID cards, 90 day detention, rendition, Iraq war. By the time Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, he had nothing to say. They had stagnated, all out of ideas. Incidentally, the country thought so too, in 2010. The SNP do have that radical promise, they are a blank page where serious change could happen. Prescription charges, tuition fees and free hospital parking were populist, yes, and in relatively small areas, but it showed they weren’t afraid of change.

      Whether this current parliament can be more radical, who knows. I voted SNP in the hope they would be. And the Labour “lets raise income tax to 50p” makes the same mistakes as Corbyn does.

      On independence, I can’t escape the basic principle that the best people to decide what should happen in Scotland is the people that live here. The SNP’s great success was cementing the surface change from ‘Scottish executive” to “Scottish government” into a deep rooted psychological change. I’m 23, so for the whole time I’ve been politically aware, it’s been ‘Scottish Government”. I just see Scotland as a separate political entity. Recent elections have borne that out, I think.

      1. What is it you think is the mistake with raising the top rate of tax to 50p? I think the ‘benefits’ of making decisions here in Scotland would be drastically outweighed by the deficit Scotland would have and the cuts necessary to balance the budget and bring down the overall debt.

        The other thing that confuses me is the desire of SNP supporters to be part of the EU, where some control has to be given up. I voted Remain as I’m aware being part of the EU means losing some ‘sovereignty’ but I’m happy for that to happen if the EU works well. This does seem to go against the basic principle you and others espouse.


        1. Well, about the 50p rate, I think it was a political move to force the SNP to make a decision. So they did, and decided not to upset the middle classes, who Labour had just alienated by promising to raise taxes. So, that went well.

          On the substance of the policy, the economic analysis showed there was a chance it would raise no revenue. So it didn’t seem like a great plan.

          Remember, from 1997 -2009, Labour thought that 40% was enough.

          Like I’ve said before, membership of the single market is what would boost economic growth in Scotland. Ireland’s GDP grew 26% this year. And I happen to think slow, steady evolution from public to private sector wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Scottish economy.

          On the EU, part of it is identity – I don’t feel as british as I feel European. I like to think of myself as a rational person, so that seems like cheating because there is no counter argument. But there we are.

          There is one final point I would make, that I think deserves more attention than it gets. Most people in Scotland, like everywhere, don’t pay attention to politics. The reason that Holyrood can blame Westminster for policy failures and claim policy successes is because most people don’t know or care about what the devolved areas are. People are busy, and it’s complicated.

          In that context, we can never have accountable politics in the current system.

          But I’m one of those evil separatists, so I would say that.

        2. I think most middle-of-the-road Scottish nationalists would agree with you. We are happy to trade autonomy for opportunity if the resulting collaboration “works well”. The EU “works well”, and in those areas where it could “work better”, I believe that it is slowly moving in the right direction. No contradiction whatsoever!

  4. At the risk of being imbellic, I wonder how someone as clear-sighted and analytical as you are thinks the centre left has any future in the SNP. They are only interested in independence and never take their eye off that peculiar ball. Unfortunately for them, they will now have to take hard decisions on taxes and budget cuts, during a recession while failing to deliver anything on the European front. The shine will be off them soon. In these circumstances, I doubt if they will be more successful in presenting a credible post-independence package than they were the last time round. The UK Labour Party is set to become a Brighton-based glee club for 70’s-lefties (choruses of illegal and immoral wars having being added to obscene and immoral weapons of more than acceptably moderate destruction). It will have no relevance to voters or government. There is the chance for the Scottish Labour Party to seize on the more important non-constitutional issues and challenge the SNP for government. I am assuming we will no be taken over to the same extent as our southern comrades and can unite around our MSPs and leader. Maybe that is just me thinking we are somehow better than the English, all evidence to the contrary.

    1. Hi there,

      I’m afraid the constant refrain of ‘they are only interested in independence’ will get the Labour Party nowhere. In part, because 45% of the country are interested in independence too. I would suggest this is a poor vote-winning strategy.

      On the wider point, I always believe in political parties for vehicles for change, not a religion to cling to. At the moment, the SNP is in power, and will be for some time. The centre left should see this as an opportunity – the SNP are pragmatic. So, if there is a decent policy proposal that will make them look good, then the country benefits, and the party benefits.

      On the Scottish Labour Party breakaway, obviously I have no dog in the fight. But, what I would say is that even if only 20-30% of Labour’s support is of the genuinely hard-left variety as Corbyn, thats a 20-30% that you can’t afford to lose at the moment.

      1. What is a policy which makes a party look good if its not a policy which serves the majority of the people political parties are supposed to “SERVE” by implementing policies which “SERVE”!

        You make the effort sound like a con. In other words you sound like somebody who would rather the electorate was not served because it would look less like a party seeking favoritism.

        Have you any concept of self awareness in you at all?

    2. You took the risk right out of being imbellic with that contribution.

      Don’t you think its far harder to make and take decisions using less than Full Government autonomy relative to having full Government autonomy?

      A Government that can achieve with less than full Government authority and resources has got to be regarded higher than any Government who achieves with full Government authority and resources let alone a worthless run of Governments who abjectly fail at every level of public service and National leadership.

      Its actually disgusting to see people such as yourself trying to fob off the ideals of Red Tory Blairites onto genuine socialist supports within Labour. Any set of “Brighton based” glee club members who support the immorality of WMDs and warmongering wont be “Lefties” but right wing Red Tory Blairites. It wasn’t Corbyn who took us to war on a pack of bare faced lies now was it?

  5. To state the bleedin’ obvious – if we vote SNP and get independence the political spectrum will change radically. You will have a range of parties on offer including possibly a Labour party which bears some resemblance to what Scotland created. Whether the SNP flourishes beyond that point will depend on how they evolve. With PR anything is possible but Labour will have to find some new talent. Personally, and I say this as an ex Labour voter, I could care less which parties succeed but I am certain the chances of radical reform will be available

    1. Couldn’t agree with this more. Scottish independence would reset politics.

      1. Is there any part of UK Politics which doesn’t need a good “Resetting” for all our sakes?

    2. My thoughts exactly! In fact my ideal would be for an Independent Scotland to never have a single party in power but work within a rainbow alliance of parties who would have to compromise with each other in order to get the best of each ideology.
      Single party dominance has been the utter bane of UK politics since forever. It didn’t get any better when the only coalitions that did occur where ideologically cloned to begin with.
      Imagine a real rainbow Government with representation from every spectrum of the political bandwidth forced to compromise to a ground which can only serve the largest of majorities.
      Then try an imagine that ever happening within Westminster.

  6. Saying that the SNP are the “New Labour” and that Nicola is heir to Tony Blair is beyond ridicules, honest I don’t know how many ‘smarties’ you had before you wrote that article, but someone needs to stop giving you those multipacks.

    Are you trying to copy horthersal’s style, to see how much conflicting policy’s and ideas you can stick into one article.

    1. I can see the comparison between Sturgeon and Blair.
      They both come across as ‘sincere’ in speeches, and often genuinely are.
      Blair was a populist, as was Salmond, as is Sturgeon.
      Free prescriptions, free education, free eye tests, free hospital parking, free, free, free..

      The genuinely ‘radical’ idea of the SNP is independence, and they can’t stray too far from the centre-left, precisely because they can’t alienate too many people along the way.

      Blair is out of fashion, but he understood more than anyone that you can’t do anything in opposition. If the Corbyn supporters really wanted to achieve their aims, it has to be slowly slowly catchy monkey. Back into power first with a credible party of government, and then gradually make a turn to the left over a number of years.
      Right now, the conditions just don’t exist for a quick handbrake turn to that brand of socialism.

      1. The difference being of course that Blair didn’t deliver on the promise of being anti Tory and different from the previous administration where as both Nicola and Alex are chalk to cheese relative to the previous right wing Blairite Labour administrations which made an arse of their time in office.
        National Independence is not radical fringe nor extremist its mainstream its the idea of unworkable moronic unresolved Devolution which is radical extremist and fringe.

        The only people objecting to Corbyns brand of mainstream popular politics is the right wing fringe Red Tory cult members within the Labour party who have the backing of the right wing extremist Conservative media circus. You know who you are by the friends you keep and attract.
        The time for socialism is any time! The time for right wing extremism is never! It only exists at all because there is something fundamentally wrong with the people who support it.

  7. It really is quite simple. You don’t get off first base without controlling the levers of power and it is only independence that puts the levers into the hands of whomsoever is voted in as the Scottish Government at Holyrood.
    Unfortunately the vested interests of most of the well connected and well to do in Scotland are more contemptuous of their own countrymen than of the corrupt Westminster elites. Much of the electorate take only a fleeting interest in what goes on in politics and have a very hazy grasp of where the lines of demarcation lie in the dogs breakfast of the Mickey Mouse devolution arrangements. This makes it so easy for the wholly corrupt gatekeepers of the media to peddle the most outrageous nonsense about Scottish affairs. Even the BBC weather map is a distorting propagandist lie – they just can’t help themselves.
    However, Indyref1 was a closer result than many predicted. From 20 voters, 9 voted YES and 11 voted No. Indyref2 when it comes will be against a backdrop of BREXIT, Trident Renewal, Broken Vows, and trashed economy. The EU nationals living in Scotland who qualify for a vote will surely turn out and break for YES and a goodly number of the overwhelmingly No voting over 65’s will have died. So if the 9 in 20 hold their nerve and persuade just one of the dissenting 11 to see the light then the precious prize of an independent Scotland will surely be won. Then you can fret about left, right or centre and this, that or the other policy agenda.

  8. A good read – thanks. The parallels between the SNP and New Labour are many, but the key one is the use of focus groups. Focus groups were used by New Labour (and now the SNP) make sure policies are popular – this is not leadership.

    Both also used vague apolitical words like “reforming”, “radical”, “progressive” and “modernising” to describe their policies…. without actually defining what they meant. It’s a gross generalisation, but:
    1. Brown used these words to conceal redistribution;
    2. Blair used them to hide the use to the private sector to deliver public services; and,
    3. The SNP use them to hide inaction.

    1. If the SNP are hiding inaction how are you able to fill your days complaining about everything they do?

      Hello Princess reality calling!

      1. Mike,
        The SNP are managers, not a government.

        What major reforms have they designed and implemented?

        Their biggest endeavour has been to close colleges to save money. Great!


        1. What major reforms are Devolved Governments allowed to implement Scott?

          Can they bring back Free tuition for higher education?
          How about abolishing PFI and PPP?
          How about saving A&E clinics from closure?
          How about constructing a new bridge across the Forth?
          Build thousands of new affordable council housing?
          Keep Labour council spending in check and prevent them from writing blank cheques?

          Why don’t you instead explain to me how you managed to whine and complain about so many SNP bad actions while believing the SNPs tenure in Office has been nothing but inaction?

          You avoided that question before so I’m asking again. Why don’t you square that circle you’ve created for yourself?

          Is there another Dr in the house? This ones broken.

        2. Oh buy the way closing colleges is a local authority matter seems it was Labour councils who closed the most colleges.

          Bet you knew that eh?

  9. “Nationalisation of industry is not radical.”

    no you’re right it’s conservative isn’t it?

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