Labour of Love

Radical Independence Conference Gather In GlasgowAt university in the 1970’s, I was a member of Broad Left. This was an alliance of the Labour Party and various left-of-centre groups who, together, were very active and successful.

Student politics and ages ago, you may think, but student activity was quite influential in British politics back then. Some leading lights of the labour movement rose through the ranks of Broad Left, like Charles Clarke, Sue Slipman, Trevor Phillips and David Aaronovitch.

But perhaps the real significance of the alliance was how it helped Labour.

What did the Labour Party, by far the biggest grouping on its own, stand to gain from aligning itself with smaller radical organisations and individuals? The answer was clear then, even if it isn’t clear now. Ideas. The thoughts, projects, theories and philosophies of others helped the Labour Party to think.

For Labour, at that time, ideas were welcome. Ideas were necessary to secure power. And the party knew it couldn’t just think for itself. It needed to get involved with others – not just to add votes but to create policy, appeal to the electorate and renew itself.

Somehow, Labour managed to get through 18 years in opposition with sufficient of its thoughts intact to deliver some clear, groundbreaking policies. When it finally overtook the Tory government in 1997, we saw peace in Northern Ireland, civil partnerships and devolution for Scotland and Wales.

The rest is recent history, but unfortunately now, in 2014, it should be painfully obvious to all but the most tribal of its members – and leaders – that Labour has become almost incapable of thinking for itself, to such an extent that it avoids most radical and progressive ideas because they might spoil the party’s image.

The problem with this aversion to fresh ideas, from outside and in, is that without the ability to think freely, Labour’s support dwindles.

This has been vividly displayed in Scotland over the past few years. When after the 2007 elections, Labour was unable to continue governing at Holyrood, should this not have given it pause for reflection and change? And beyond that, shouldn’t the SNP 2011 landslide – in a system expected to avoid that very result – have provoked the most profound re-think and change of direction?

Instead we’ve become used to unswerving adherence to the party line and hectoring. We often hear politicians say “we’ll take no lessons from …”. Yet isn’t that exactly what Labour needs to do: learn from others in order to renew and reconnect?

Of course Labour continues to produce some new policies that hit the spot in terms of popular support – the price freeze on power companies, for instance. Yet these odd flashes don’t seem to connect to any deeper coherent set of principles. Instead, the fundamental drift of Labour ideology has been away from the radical and the challenging towards the status quo and the powerful. So, at Westminster, Labour has found itself playing ‘me too’ with some of the most regressive thinking on welfare, supporting the ideas of privatising public resources and cutting benefits while private wealth soars.

And now, in Scotland, there is the grotesque sight of Labour joining an alliance with the Conservatives – the Conservatives! – in order to block radical proposals for constitutional and social change. Wouldn’t, in more open-minded times, Labour be leading the charge to reform the system in favour of the people?

It seems such a waste that Labour’s great allegiance to social justice, fairness and democracy cannot be used positively to help build a better Scotland. It looks as if a significant number of Labour supporters are starting to see how this could happen by voting Yes in September.

If the once great movement that was Labour is struggling due to a lack of new ideas, it doesn’t have to look far to find them. If you want fresh thinking about how to improve society, the Yes campaign – especially all its fertile offshoots – is awash with it.

Campaigning for Yes, I’ve heard some really refreshing, inventive and inspired discussions from a wide range of people, passionately imagining a better Scotland.

The response of Labour’s high heijuns is to dismiss this unprecedented rainbow alliance as ‘separatists’. That doesn’t only insult everyone’s intelligence, it also risks cutting Labour off from some of the best ideas and brightest people in future.

How brilliant it would be if Labour could join in. All I’d say to Labour supporters, wondering if Yes might be better than No, is: Come away from the dark side, and join us. Come on in! The water may be bracing but it’s full of possibilities. There could be so much to gain by voting Yes – just think about it!

Comments (0)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Good observations and a good rad,although I think the Labour party particularly in Scotland wont do much about it because of their blind obedience to the party agenda.No matter how many hands held out,I don’t think they can bring themselves to change back to their true roots,hatred is blind and that is what I see from the Labour MSP,s and M.P.,s towards the SNP.Why is this so? because we Scots decided that Labour had deserted us and not we them,they have to open their eyes and minds to new realities.

  2. JimnArlene says:

    I too would welcome Labour supporters, but not the party machine. They have sold Scotland short since day one, only ramping up the bile in the past few years. If any of the current mob were ever socialists, they certainly could not be described as so now.

  3. ElaineS says:

    I can’t see it happening, they treat us like lepers instead of people who have the democratic right to speak out on what we want. Scottish Labour have had a superior air about them that we should know our place and blindly trust them. They have long since forgotten they work for us, their wages paid by the taxpayers so they have this attitude, if Scots don’t want Tories or SNP then they only have us and will just have to like or lump what we do and say. 40 years I’ve been Labour and I don’t recognise Labour anymore and I don’t think Scottish Labour will become humble and listen to us with this shower of MPs/MSPs now. I will only vote for an Independent, Scottish registered grassroots Labour but if god forbid No wins, I will walk away from the party and never,ever vote or trust them again.

    1. I feel exactly the same way, Elaine.

  4. lochside says:

    I don’t recognise this image of a mythical Labour Party of the 80s. They started the decade selling Scotland down the river with the rigged Ref. of ’79.

    They followed it up by refusing to defend Scotland against Thatcher. Many student activists up here, such as Wendy Alexander etc. could not see the necessity for the ‘feeble fifty’ SLAB puppets to join with the SNP to unilaterally defy Thatcher’s poll tax.

    Since then: ‘Leaders’ such as : Blairite/Mandelson/Brown Darling ad nauseum; illegal wars; supine SLAB dupes running rotten boroughs with their corrupt sectarian underhand recruitment policies; and now….SLAB wrapping themselves in Butcher’s aprons rather than defend the working poor , disabled and unemployed of this country.

    I hope the Labour party’s quislings in Scotland disappear to whatever rat holes they choose and let proper socialists constitute a proper, just and honest political party in post-uk Scotland.

    We don’t need the discredited rotting corpse of Scottish labour lying around stinking up the place in a free Scotland.

  5. lochside says:

    I’m sorry, but the description of Labour Student Politics doesn’t fit my experience. Most of the Wendy Alexanders etc of that period were too busy ignoring the Scottish dimension to the point of myopia.
    A rigged 1979 referendum; poll tax imposed a year early than England; utter destruction of our industry…I could go on.

    But SLAB’s ‘feeble fifty’s response was to resist allying themselves with the SNP to create the Constitutional crisis that this country required to bring down Thatcherite rule in this country: The long forgotten ‘Democratic deficit’.

    You state ‘ideas were required to gain power’….no…slogans were required and arch snake salesman Tony Bliar was right on tap with as many as required.

    Peace in Ireland?…Thatcher kicked it off, in secret, of course; Devolution for Scotland?….lip service to suffocate nationalism. How about Clause IV of the Labour Party Constitution?…ripped up in 1995.

    Face it, Labour and their Scottish glove puppets has no ideas, no ideals and no scruples. They have no vision, just contingency soundbites to out Tory the Tories…more austerity, less foreigners,..just Tory speak. And you believe that Milliband will actually curb the Energy Cartel?

    I hope that the parcel of toerags that represent SLAB in Scotland will scuttle off to hide under the stones they crawled from. Labour is dead and let us bury its stinking hypocritical corpse, draped in its Butcher’s apron, once and for all after Sept. 18th.

    In the New Scotland post-UK, a new Socialist party can emerge, fair, just and honest.

  6. rab alexander says:

    The labour party have never been a party of the working class. Take a good look at the self serving dross that run he NO campaign. They would rather we get the austerity cuts that are coming after the next election and a Tory government than support an independent more egalitarian Scotland.
    The Labour for Independence faction in the Labour party are well worth the watching. Johnny come Lately who have been an obstacle to independence from beginning and now see opportunity in supporting independence. I sincerely hope that they have not waited to long to jump ship and that more Labour party members finally realise the futility of supporting the Labour Party.

  7. Auld Rock says:

    One thing for sure is that they will not find themselves pushed upstairs to a £300 per day bread ticket on or after the 19th September for no such place will exist in an Independent Scotland. Of course maybe their Tory Masters will reward them for their failed lies by giving them an unelected seat in that place of sleaze and pedophiles on the Thames. Aye that’ll be right, LOL.

    Auld Rock

  8. lochside says:

    apologies for posting twice. Error with browser!

  9. For me, The Labour Party is part of the problem, not the solution. It’s so long since I’ve been a Labour supporter that I honestly don’t care if they survive the indy campaign. Their best hope lies with the Labour For Indy folk, but they’re doing their best to close them out.

    If Yes win, I think there will be a bloodbath of recriminations within the Labour Party. We assumed that proportional representation would help the Tories to recover in Holyrood. In fact, their decline has continued. I can see the same thing happening with Labour.

    If No wins, the party machine (such as it is) will take action against those who stood up to them, and the party will lose in the long run.

    The thing is, there could easily be a proper Scottish Labour Party made up of Labour for Indy activists. After all, that’s the most active part of their membership!

    However, if Yes wins I wouldn’t let the Labour party machine anywhere near our shiny new democracy. And I honestly don’t think they could cope with real democracy anyway.

  10. And, by the way, I believe the real reason Labour tholed their activists getting involved with Broad Left was to police the radicals – “Vote Labour, Don’t Split The Left Vote” – the eternal cry of the left during the 80s and 90s.

  11. Famous15 says:

    I remember a certain Gordon Brown in the early seventies leading the Broad Left and his election as Student Rector of Edinburgh University was a result.I voted for him myself! How I regret that and not for his support for illegal wars and weapons of mass destruction but for his support of demonising the poor. Do not forget it was he who introduced the bedroom tax.

    1. Not to defend Gordon Brown, but in the interests of accuracy, to say he introduced the Bedroom Tax is bending the facts to suit your thesis. Whenever people claim that Bedroom Tax is a Labour policy, they are comparing it to the Local Housing Allowance (LHA), a policy introduced in 2008 by the Labour Government to limit the amount of Housing Benefit (HB) paid to private landlords.

      Under LHA, the amount of Housing Benefit is calculated against a number of factors, predominantly based on average rental prices in the nearby area. The 2008 policy was designed as an attempt to stop private landlords charging higher rents in the knowledge that this escalating cost would be met through Housing Benefit. The LHA was designed to cap the amount of HB that claimants are eligible for, allowing them to receive enough benefit to rent homes in only the cheapest 50% of nearby properties. In 2011, the coalition government reduced the amount of LHA that would be paid still further, allowing a payment that would cover rent for only 30% of the average local rental value. The reason that comparisons are made between bedroom tax and the LHA are that many of the criteria established for LHA have been reproduced wholesale in the text of the DWP policy for the bedroom tax. Particularly, the tests for the number of bedrooms that tenants are deemed to be entitled to are copied, word for word. However there are key differences in the way that the two policies have been introduced, and on the type of households that the two different policies affect.

      The Bedroom Tax is structurally different to the LHA. It doesn’t take into account that smaller alternative private rental properties are more expensive in terms of Housing Benefit required to fund them, and the imposition of the demand for payment has not taken into account the additional requirements that the disabled tenants affected have.

      The cost of Housing Benefit for tenants in private sector housing is already higher because landlords set the rent price according to market conditions. Social Housing rents, and their corresponding Housing Benefit claims are already lower because the rent prices are held artificially lower by Local Authorities and Housing Associations setting the rent levels. The intended effect of moving people from under-occupancy in social housing to private housing will incur an additional cost.

      1. Allan Hosey says:

        Sorry, but it WAS Labour that introduced the principle of the bedroom tax. Then they acted surprised that the small breaches they make in welfare policy are broadened by the tories when they win elections.

        Exact same dynamic with ATOS assessing the disabled.

        So Labour as a party are either crazy enough to think that they would never be out of power again so their policies would never be changed, or they simply don’t give a shit because this stuff is entirely predictable.

        You can fight against policies which attack the poor and public services, but you are in no position to do so if you have already passed legislation with those elements enshrined in them.

        Labour at this time is beyond saving imo. They mistake better management of the system we have for radicalism and being outsiders. They aren’t, they’re as establishment as it comes.

        A Labour Party worthy of the name would have been the designers of something like the Common Weal and fought for it. The fact that it has barely been mentioned by them is all you need to know about their commitment to changing the system. They are the system.

  12. Tom Platt says:

    The aim of the Scottish Labour Party has changed over the years. Previously they were the party which tried to support the workers and the poor. Nowadays their main purpose is just to get themselves elected. The Westminster MPs then work towards becoming a member of the House of Lords and the well paid job for life. The Westminster system has succeeded in making them all conservatives.

  13. Big Jock says:

    I wouldn’t have one of the current Scottish Labour MPs in the independent Scottish parliament.They are the least talented bunch to have ever served as Maps since the parliament opened.I think they will just disappear for a few years and some will try and join the SNP or Liberals.Ultimately I think the SNP will dominate Scottish politics as they will be seen as the most coherent.I expect a kind of middle ground Scottish Labour party to appear about 5 years into independence.They will take another decade to get near to election.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.