bmcinlaySixteen year old Labour member and blogger Ben McKinlay says radical socialism is how Scotland can reclaim Labour.



I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I didn’t believe the exit polls when they were published at 10 PM on May 7th. I’m certain I was not the only one for whom flickers of uncertainty grew into a creeping dread before exploding into a fury of anger and confusion over the course of Thursday night and Friday morning. I know I was not the only one who found the fact that the United Kingdom had returned a majority Tory government and that Scotland had returned only a single Labour MP simply incomprehensible.

It was a devastating defeat. But it was also a wake-up call. For far too long, Scottish Labour has been slowly sleepwalking to its own demise. The warning signs have been there for a long time: 2007, when the SNP first took control of the Scottish Parliament; 2011, when they won a majority in a system designed to prevent such an outcome; 2014, when 45% of the Scottish populace, particularly in Glasgow, our traditional heartland, rejected Labour in favour of independence. Throughout all of this we refused to listen. Now, we must listen.

There is a somewhat justified sentiment held by many Scots that in Labour’s eyes, Scotland existed solely to obediently send 41 Labour MPs down to Westminster – nothing more, nothing less. There is a real feeling among Scots that Labour just doesn’t care. Regardless of the truth of these sentiments, it is the emotion that counts; as Lynton Crosby, the Tory’s vindicated election strategist, once said, when reason clashes with emotion, it is emotion that invariably comes out ahead. Never has that been so clearly demonstrated than in Scotland last Thursday.

All are agreed: Scottish Labour must rebuild. Where conflict arises is in how that rebuilding process should occur. There are many in the party, notably the majority of MSPs and former MPs, who, at least publicly, say that Jim Murphy is the right man for the job. Humbly, I disagree. Jim Murphy is emblematic of the problems facing the Labour Party in Scotland: Blairite, a major New Labour figure, seen as being installed by the party from London. These are the last qualities Scottish Labour needs in their leader.

Labour in Scotland needs to go in a different direction from Jim Murphy. We need to go in a direction that breaks with the past, and embraces the future. We need to go in a direction that recognises our historic achievements without trying to recreate history. We need to go in a direction that is specific to Scotland, but that doesn’t abandon the United Kingdom.

We can’t pander to nationalist myths nor promote nationalist half-truths. But we also can’t abandon the voters who have abandoned us in favour of nationalism. We must remember that so many of those who voted SNP did not truly vote for nationalism; they voted for an end to austerity, for social justice, for a real left-wing alternative to the establishment they saw Labour as a part of. With this in mind, there is only one road for Labour in Scotland that can lead us back to success.

It’s time Labour in Scotland became that bold and radical Socialist alternative once again. It’s a role we once embraced; it’s a role that still draws so many people across the United Kingdom to the Labour Party. This doesn’t mean a return to the 1980s – as society and culture changes, so too must Socialism. This isn’t something that can be done from the top down. It needs to come from the grassroots, from the people and communities across Scotland that once embraced Labour, and that made Labour the party that it is. We need to have an open, democratic, engaged discussion, not just amongst ourselves but with the people of Scotland, including those who voted Nationalist. Only then can Labour reclaim Scotland. Only then can Scotland reclaim Labour.

This won’t be an easy process – there can be no short-cuts, no easy paths. It’s that quick-fix mindset that placed Jim Murphy in the leadership, and we’ve all seen how well that worked out. If it requires a split from the UK Labour Party, then so be it. Of course, fraternal relations should be maintained, and Labour MPs elected in Scotland should vote with the rest of the Labour Party in Westminster on most issues. But we can’t let the cautious approach of the UK-wide party hold Labour back in Scotland. We must reclaim our mantle as the home of left-wing politics in Scotland and we must offer the people of Scotland the bold and radical alternative that they have demanded – or face oblivion. I just hope it’s not too late.

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13 thoughts on “We must reclaim our mantle

  1. OK what is this bold left wing alternative that we should now be embracing? Lets talk specifics. Bring back clause 4 ? There was a reason Labour moved on from some of its traditional socialist policies. They were bad policies and produced poor outcomes and lost us votes. We don’t need to lurch radically left – or radically right. We need sensible practical policies designed to bring the greatest good to the greatest number, which recognise the need both to protect the vulnerable and encourage aspiration. We need policies that show we can be financially responsible as well as promoting social fairness.
    But above all we need leadership that can communicate this left of centre social democratic approach with some sense of conviction and clarity. That is one thing that has been lacking.
    we need to get on the front foot. We have spent too long dancing to the nationalists tune and their simplistic but effective propaganda. We need to get smart and savvy. Above all the left of centre needs to stop tearing itself apart in internecine disputes.
    yes many didn’t like Blair for the Iraq issue. But that wing of the party nevertheless delivered three electoral wins and much other good policy.
    Equally that wing of the party has to recognise that it went too far and became too uncritical of business and finance. It’s goo that we should be seen as pro-business. But when we go so far that we start being seen as pro business’s excess then something has gone wrong.

    if Labour spend the next period blood letting and lurching strongly one way or the other then I see little hope. it’s time to come together and thrash out a platform and a vision that the whole party can coalesce behind. that will require some more realistic thinking on both wings of the party and a recognition that no one has the whole answer.
    For the sake of us all get this done and let us move on together and with some positive energy.

  2. Moving Left would win back most Scottish seats, doubt though middle England would be rushing to sign up.

    1. Yes, I agree Middle England is the issue here. UK-wide Labour needs to be able appeal to Middle England, Scottish Labour needs to appeal to Scots. Same core themes, just different ends of the same spectrum. Ideally, Labour will be able to reconcile these differences, aided by devolution allowing Scottish Labour to offer a more radical platform than the main party on devolved matters, but if not, then I’d be all for Scottish Labour becoming a fully autonomous, separate party with fraternal relations to the UK-wide party. Scotland needs a Labour Party with a bold and radical political platform, and the rest of the UK a platform which while maintaining many of the same core ideals, are tailored specifically for their different audiences; that’s my ideal scenario either way, but I’m not sure it’s achievable without a Scottish Labour Party independent to the UK-wide Labour Party, especially if someone like Chuka Umunna or Liz Kendall wins the leadership.

  3. It is too simplistic to state that the Labour party should move to the left. I believe that the people of Scotland are looking for the Labour party to move on from the referendum and to set out, campaign for and implement an aspirational vision for a secure and stronger Scotland.

    Immediate challenges include the implementation of Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland, the referendum on Europe, abolition of the Human Rights Act, job losses in the oil industry, growing inequality, business uncertainty regarding constitutional change and declining performance of the NHS and education system.

  4. Ben aged 16, you sound as if your going on 60.
    Seriously, you reckon last weeks result was because the Scottish people put emotion before reason?
    I reckon its that kind of arrogance that got them into the mess they now find themselves.

    1. Did you even read this Richard?

      Ben says:
      “We must remember that so many of those who voted SNP did not truly vote for nationalism; they voted for an end to austerity, for social justice, for a real left-wing alternative to the establishment they saw Labour as a part of. With this in mind, there is only one road for Labour in Scotland that can lead us back to success.”

      He said precisely the opposite of what you’ve accused him of saying.

      1. Stu. Read the third paragraphs last two sentences again.

        1. The point he is making was that I wasn’t saying it was the emotion of blind nationalism that triumphed, but the emotion of hope. The SNP presented a message of hope to the people of Scotland and even if that hope wasn’t back up by reasoned arguments, the Scottish people voted for the emotion of hope. It’s that emotion that Labour once embodied, and it is that emotion that Labour needs to embody again to win – hopefully backed up with reasoned arguments, unlike the SNP.

    2. Well your own response seems more based on emotion than reason; I don’t see much of a reasoned argument there. And yes, I believe that many (not all, but many) of those who voted SNP did so because of the glamour of independence and/or anger at the Labour Party. The SNP had precious little in terms of actual policy, and much of what they did was copied and pasted from Labour’s fully costed and well reasoned manifesto; their flagship policy, full fiscal autonomy, has been discredited, to the point where it has been renamed full fiscal responsibility, by a leading economic think tank, the IFS. In terms of reasoned arguments, the SNP have very little going for them; in terms of emotion, they have a hell of a lot.
      What got Scottish Labour into the situation it is now in, more than any other single factor, is that it lost the emotional connection it had with much of the Scottish public. The politics of the left is deeply reliant on emotion, and especially under New Labour, the Labour Party lost its emotional connection with the people who were once considered Labour through and through. It’s now our challenge to regain the trust of the Scottish people and in doing so recreate the emotional connection and community driven spirit that built Labour up in the first place. And I strongly believe that that involves creating a bold and radical policy agenda that can win back the many Scottish Socialists who have abandoned us in favour of the SNP.

  5. Hopefully we can get away from the “something for nothing” line.
    Doing away with prescriptions, bus passes etc for wealthy pensioners sounds as though it was thought up by an advisor to the Scottish Tories.
    What exactly does wealthy mean in working class areas of Scotland.
    A living wage is a dream for the average worker.
    What’s the average wage in Pollok or Lochee?
    Not enough to live on but too high to receive benefits.
    Most workers end up with nothing but the state pension as many of us know.
    And a Scottish Labour leader wanted to take away the free bus pass.
    No wonder we were wiped out.
    Never mind the SNP, let’s look nearer home.

    1. you are on the mark, with that one Graham. weaithy pensioners, aye lets get the bus pass handed over, auld yin. I live in EDIN. and similarly to Pollock and Lochee, I dinnae bump in to many wealthy pensioners. I voted SNP, ex-LAB., but no just the bus pass, your mob also wanted mair aff the pensioners and the so called “middle classes”. again, in Edin. I dinnae bump intae too many o’ that class you guys refer to.

  6. Ben, a well written piece. I wonder if a similar affliction has cursed the NZ Labour party. Torn apart by competing left wing agendas. Makes me wonder about a bigger question – how left wing politics became so fragmented? NZ Labour suffers a similar quandary, how do we win back our traditional supporters – lost to both sides of the spectrum, greens, and in NZ, I think NZ First a nationalist party, hmm, in some ways similar to SNP. To me it’s a bigger question than simply – we need to be more socialist. The most hardened socialist I’ve ever met, are borderline facists, how do we reconcile that? I have no answers. We are living in a new world, one that presents so many competing issues for constituents, welfare, wages, fair play, freewill, liberty, health, education, debt, housing, etc. It’s easy to espouse ideology, coming up with answers to these tough problems is much harder.

    Personally I think the motivation behind the massive SNP win is hope. Hope is a huge motivator. The SNP said we can, as Scots, be heard, be someone, make a difference… those ideals transcend politics. That is your challenge Ben. But, Ben McKinlay, Scotland, actually the planet, needs people like you – with strong ideas, humanistic opinions, and smart minds. So, I applaud you and best wishes.

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