DEREK BATEMAN ( BBC Radio Scotland): What do we make of Denis Healey admitting that when [North Sea] oil was discovered, Labour – a Labour government, ahead of a referendum, interestingly, on the constitution of Scotland – misled, deliberately misled the Scots about the value of oil?
MARGARET CURRAN MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland) : Well, Derek, I don’t know anything about that, those times, I don’t know the basis on which Denis Healey said that, I don’t know the argument, I don’t know the papers around that.
DEREK BATEMAN ( BBC Radio Scotland): But you’re the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland! You’re a senior Labour figure, I mean, he was a Labour chancellor.
MARGARET CURRAN MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland) : I know I’m getting on a bit, but I wasn’t around in Denis Healey’s days.
Oh yes she was.
Unless it was another Margaret Curran I met who was Secretary of Glasgow University Labour Club, the biggest in the UK, when Healey was Labour Chancellor in the Callaghan Government. This would have been in 1978, two years after Healey had made global front page news and labour movement noteriety after he went to the IMF for a bail out in exchange for huge public spending cuts.
Indeed not only did 20 year Margaret know who he was, but was sufficiently angry with him to be calling for his resignation. Because, difficult though it may be to imagine, Margaret was at that time was a prominent supporter of the Labour left opposition . And her, “not around” line is as credible as David Cameron claiming he was “not around” when Thatcher introduced the Poll Tax: As credible as would the current Secretary of Oxford University Conservative Association claiming in 30 years time he was “not around” when George Osbourne slashed welfare budgets.
So what is it about today’s Scottish Labour Party that makes decent enough people, spout such untruths on Scotland’s national radio station? Deny their own past? Be “not around?”
I think on this one it is obvious. Because Margaret well remembers that, in addition to being in the middle of an economic crisis in 1978, the Labour Party in Scotland, and grassroots activists like her in particular, were under immense political pressure from the SNP, which with 11 MPs at Westminster and opinion poll rating s touching 40% threatened to wipe Labour out whenever the next UK General Election came around. It had already near done it in the Council elections on May 1977, where for the first time in decades Labour had been swept from office in Glasgow. Or were you ‘not around” for that either Margaret?
Like, me she will certainly remember spending the best part of the Spring of 1978 campaigning for Donald Dewar in the knife edge Garscadden by-election, where the SNP started as clear favorites to take Labour out in one of its west central Scotland heartland seats, a success that would have left every last one of them vulnerable. The SNP rallying cry at the time? “It’s Scotland’s Oil”, backed up by detailed proposal on how a national oil fund in an independent Scotland could transform our country and deliver prosperity and social justice for folks in places like Garscadden and beyond. Folks like Margaret indeed.
Scottish Labour, with an able candidate in Donald Dewar, set about the nationalist claim with some gusto and effectiveness, and as a participant, I went along with this, genuinely believing the SNP claims were way over-hyped. I am sure Margaret then was little different from me in this respect.
But we now find – 36 years down the line – not only that the SNP was correct, but that the entire Labour Cabinet at the time, Healey, the Chancellor of the Exchequer especially, knew this but decided not to tell anyone, including Labour activists like me and Margaret.
Now I am long out the Labour Party, and have been lied to so often by Labour that I feel I am kind of immune to being shocked or outraged. But this one is so close to the bone, so central to my first experiences of serious political campaigning that it has shocked even me. “I spent all that time, all that energy, money I barely had, took all those early morning buses to Drumchapel, missed out on all these social events, that Elvis Costello concert in Edinburgh, to campaign on a lie, a lie known to the people who led that campaign?” And not just the 1978 Garscadden by-election, but the 1979 Referendum too. Our best argument was denied to us – by our own side.
But Margaret was “not around”.
Yet she most certainly was. Because I do remember, even if she chooses not to. At that time Glasgow University Labour Club, with over 300 individual members, was the largest in the UK by far. It was “on the circuit”. Everyone who was anyone spoke there – Tony Benn, Neil Kinnock, Michael Foot all regulars, as were all the leading lights in the Labour Party in Scotland. And Margaret, as Labour Club Secretary was their first point of contact, the facilitator. But according to her”not around”. Maybe she organised it all on the internet!
One other detail I must mention before I conclude. Margaret was a leading light on campus in the “Labour Yes” campaign for the 1979 Referendum. The “Labour Yes” campaign mind, not “Yes for Scotland”, the all party campaign, where those pesky “nats, liberals and commies” were also involved. But her direct university and Labour club comrade and friend, Johan Lamont was not. She was a leading light in the “Labour Vote No” campaign. You read that right: Johan Lamont, in 1979 actively campaigned against the ever so modest measure of devolution her own Labour Government offered the people of Scotland.
Go ask Johan. Or maybe she was “not around” either.
But believe me, they both were, and very much so. Key Labour student activists, earmarked as ones to watch by Helen Liddell the then Scottish Secretary of the Labour Party, situated in Keir Hardie House just 5 minutes walk away from Glasgow University. And Margaret and Johan, even in these days were on relaxed first name speaking terms with Donald Dewar, John Reid, Brian Wilson, Robin Cook, John Smith, George Foulkes, Bruce Milan……the list goes on. “Not around?” They were part of the show.
Which comes back to my initial question. Why is Margaret denying this?
Simple to answer: Because she needs to. Without that denial, her credibility and the credibility of her entire generation that is now running the Labour Party in Scotland is shot. They were mugged. We were mugged – because I was part of it too. Scotland was mugged. Poor working class people in Garscadden were mugged.
Some folks learn from history.
Others deny it. Repeat it.
One is the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.
Alan Smart: Glasgow University Labour Club 1976-82. Chairperson Glasgow University Labour Club, 1980-81, Chairperson of Scottish Organisation of Labour Students, 1981-82. President NUS Scotland 1984-86, (elected on Labour Student ticket)
Margaret Curran: Glasgow University Labour Club, 1975-80. Secretary Glasgow University Labour Club. 1978-79. Chairperson Scottish Organisation of Labour Students 1979-80
For Margaret (That history degree she got don’t seem too have done her much good) :
Denis Healey. Chancellor of The Exchequer, 1974-79. Deputy Leader of the Labour Party 1980-83.
Here in full is what Dennis Healey told Holyrood Magazine in May 2013:
Footnote: Many have commented that, with the exception of the bold Derek Bateman on his BBC Radio Scotland programme, and unlike the rest of the media, including STV, BBC Scotland’s coverage of this major admission by arguably the most important Labour politician of the late 1970s early 80s period has been near non existent, especially on TV. There may be many explanations for this.
Here is a possible one:
John Boothman, Present Head of News and Current Affairs, BBC Scotland: Chairperson of Strathclyde University Labour Club 1979, Chairperson Scottish Organisation of Labour Students 1980. Chairperson of the National (UK) Organisation of Labour Students 1981.
Around at the time? For sure.