Thursday, 31 July 2008

Follow the leader

A couple of comments about the race to become the leader of the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament before the race really gets underway.

First, the race is, as I've quite rightly put it in the first sentence, for the leadership of the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament. It is not for leader of Scottish Labour (if indeed there is such a thing). So why - as a practical question more than anything - are there more people voting in this contest than the 46 Labour MSPs at Holyrood?

I mean, I'd understand it if it was for the leadership of the Labour party in Scotland. There would be a lot of people - members, trade unions, elected representatives (all MSPs, MPs and MEPs) in Scotland - that would have a stake who became the leader. But to allow each of the aforementioned groups a one third stake in the contest to lead the MSP group in the Scottish Parliament seems a bit strange. Like offering the whole world the opportunity to vote for West End Community Council. Maybe that's overstating the point - but you get what I mean.

I know independence is a swear word in the Labour party at the moment, but that's exactly what they need - independence from London. As a colleague pointed out to me last night (during a meeting of some of the greatest minds ever to graduate from a fine Scottish unniversity) it was Labour that delivered devolution. Fine. I'm glad they did. But, for a party that was so keen (at the time) to devolve power to Scotland, might they not think about devolving some of their own power base from London to the Scottish party?

Labour remain the least devolved of the parties in Scotland. Even the arch-unionist Tories (who dusted off the old "Conservative and Unionist" posters for the Glasgow East by-election) have more control over what they do in Scotland. Granted that may be because they lost all their MPs in 1997 and there's little in the way of dissent from David Mundell regarding Annabel Goldie's leadership. But it might also be because the party realised that they were on a hiding to nothing following London's lead after their 1997 wipeout and that rebuilding in Scotland with a Scottish-based party was the only way they could appeal the electorate in Scotland.

Aren't Labour in danger of the same thing? Now I'm not taking sides in the contest - mainly because I can't form an unbiased view - but surely NOT demanding more control over the party in Scotland will just lead Labour into the same mess the "Bring it on" saga landed them in with Wendy & Gordon. Maybe their MPs need to get past their "I won't take orders from the leader of a group in a diddy parliament" mantra and let the party leader in Scotland (sorry, the leader of the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament) have more control over Labour policy in Scotland. If they don't - they may not be MPs for much longer.

Just a thought. Not that I want Labour to get better - I just think that politics in Scotland suffers when the opposition is so weak.


Jeff 31 July 2008 at 15:54  

Good stuff Malc, and I am a constant sinner of the 'Labour Leader' nonsense so thanks for clearing that up.

I am also enjoying the first election/vote in a long time where I have no strong desire for it be won one way or the other so, yes, bring it on as they say. Hopefully it'll be an interesting process.

PS I do love the irony in this line:

"during a meeting of some of the greatest minds ever to graduate from a fine Scottish unniversity"

university just has 1 'n' by the way

Anonymous,  31 July 2008 at 16:50  


I think in many ways Labour have a harder time of this than any other party, simply because of the relative size of their Holyrood and Westminster groups

i.e. the SNP had 6 (now 7) MPs and 47 MSPs. Labour had 41 MPs (now 40) and 46 MSPs. It's only natural that there will be tension when you have two such big groups. I suspect it would be the same for all parties - including the SNP if Salmond had still been an MP at the time.

Linked to this - and this will sound stupid - is the question of where 'Scotland' is for political purposes. Yes health, education, etc are dealt with by Holyrood but welfare, defence, etc are dealt with at Westminster.

Does that mean these matters don't count in a Scottish sense? Of course not but the minute you raise this you get into the question of who would be the leader in Scotland, especially at a time the UK leader is Scottish.

If an independent Scottish party was created then who would be a member of it? MSPs? Councillors? MEPs? MPs? And if this was the case then could a Scottish Labour MP then lead the UK party?

It may be that for the purposes of presentation there's more Labour at Holyrood could do to distance themslves from Labour at Westminster but it would be largely a cosmetic change - there's ultimately nothing officially stopping the Scottish Parliament leader from saying what they want.

And ultimately this is probably only a big issue when Labour are in power at a UK-level. If the country had an unpopular Tory government I suspect this is where resources would be focused.

Malc 31 July 2008 at 17:34  

Jeff - I made it "unniversity" as a nod to my Falkirk readers still a bit miffed that it was Stirling that got the uni and not them. Or I made a typing error believe what you will.

IoC - I agree with your first point and kinda alluded to that, pointing out the sole Tory MP probably doesn't carry much weight against 17 MSPs (if you count the PO).

With regard to your other comments, the Tories manage fine with those issues of Scottish v Westminster powers - mainly by staying out of UK issues or by agreeing on a strategy with the UK party. I don't think that is so hard - "Gordon, we think we should be doing this." It's good to talk...

Equally, I'm not sold on your "a Scottish Labour MP couldn't be Westminster leader" idea. Look at the Lib Dems - Charles Kennedy & Menzies Campbell both managed it. Granted both were dispensed with - but not because they were Scottish.

And I agree the extent to which it could achieve anything might be limited - but the symbolism of it would achieve much more. But then, what do I know? I should probably take a step back from frontline politics and think big thoughts...

Anonymous,  31 July 2008 at 17:55  


I can see your point about the Tories and Libs getting around this problem - although both come from slightly different positions (the Tories are unlikely ever to have a big Scottish presence and the Libs aren't likely to form a UK government).

Overall though it is an understandable point and you can argue it sort of mirrors the situation we already have between local councils and parliamentary groups e.g. they don't have to agree and sort of exist seperately for the purposes of setting policy.

Part of the problem is that where there are politicians there will be a rush to meddle in every issue! Therefore even if the party's UK and Scottish leadership agreed a certain joint strategy it's likely there would MPs or MSPs ready to jump in and criticise this.

As for any impact being limited or symbolic I suppose the one thing I didn't really address before is how important this can be, even if it's only the media really care. Because obviously it's them that present an image of the party to the wider Scottish populace.

As for 'thinking big thoughts' - well what else is blogging for...

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