2007 - 2021

Little Richard

As the news broke of Richard Leonard’s resignation on Thursday afternoon BBC Radio Scotland valiantly tried to respond. In a moment that would make you wince the presenter John Beattie asked his political correspondent: “So, who was he?” The question goes to the heart of his problem, a complete inability to make an impression, to handle the media, to project ideas or to develop a profile. While the problem was compounded by Labour’s policy black-hole and fatally undermined by their constitutional position, it was also exacerbated by Leonard’s lack of spark and his comedic liability to discern what policies were and weren’t devolved.

Even his resignation letter was a bit vague, suggesting that his departure was somehow something to do with the virus:

“Both governments have mishandled its response to Covid, with devastating consequences not least in our care homes. It is essential now that we have an accelerated vaccine roll out – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – to ensure that the most vulnerable and frontline workers are protected against Covid, and that the general population is given greater protection as quickly as possible after that. I have thought long and hard over the Christmas period about what this crisis means, and the approach Scottish Labour takes to help tackle it. I have also considered what the speculation about my leadership does to our ability to get Labour’s message across. This has become a distraction.”

“I have come to the conclusion it is in the best interests of the party that I step aside as leader of Scottish Labour with immediate effect. This was not an easy decision, but after three years I feel it is the right one for me and for the party.”

Leonard came across as a decent man, but one promoted above his abilities into a vicious and dysfunctional organisation. Neil Findlay MSP – from the left of the party reflects (‘How not to save Scottish Labour’):

“People who have spent three years repeatedly undermining, briefing against, and openly attacking the Scottish leader Richard Leonard finally won their war of attrition, and he resigned. In the last three years I have sat in dozens of private meetings of Labour MSPs, during which these cowards would send out anonymous tweets and text message accounts of what was being discussed to their pet journalists to run negative stories. I have watched as one of them ran their own media operation through which a journalist on their payroll openly and repeatedly wrote newspaper articles attacking Leonard, Corbyn, and anything or anyone attached to them. I have seen people with a level of self-entitlement you only get from a private education use everything in their box of tricks to grind down those whose only crime was to try and change the Scottish Labour Party for the better.”

The specific accusation is that Leonard’s resignation was not a spontaneous personal choice but an internal coup facilitated by Jackie Baillie, Angela Rayner, Jackie Baillie, and Ian Murray met with wealthy peers and labour donors. It was made clear that no money would be donated unless Leonard was removed and Anas Sarwar installed as leader and once this was relayed to Starmer he asked Leonard to stand down. If true it does everything to reinforce the idea of Scottish Labour as an adjunct to UK Labour, and a body beholden to big donors rather than ordinary members. It also represents a victory for the right of the party and those wedded closely to the Union.

If the pundits frame Leonard’s failure as being a Corbyn man in a post Corbyn Labour Party, or the consequences of the Labour Party knifing him in the front Scaramucci style, this is only part of the story. The deluge of fabulously wrong ‘hot-takes’ from the commentariat reinforced that the ‘left’ and the media class are completely at sea about Scottish politics and the national question.

Labour peer and ex-Blair-era cabinet member Andrew Adonis came out arguing that: “The best leader of the Labour Party in Scotland would be Gordon Brown.” He followed up saying that: “A good indication that Gordon Brown would be a great leader of the Labour Party in Scotland is that the SNP seem to hate the idea so much. Just look at their vitriol & personal abuse in my timeline when I suggested it Gordon would be a brilliant First Minister of Scotland.”

Adonis was joined by George Eaton, editor of the New Statesman saying: “Given how high the stakes are, there’s surely a case for Gordon Brown becoming Scottish Labour leader.
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Next up John Lloyd piped up saying (‘Gordon Brown has one more task in politics – to lead Scottish Labour out of the doldrums’) that Gordon Brown would:
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“… speak to Scotland and to the tens of thousands who slipped from Labour to the SNP, because they thought the nationalists knew where they were going and Labour did not. But he would also speak for the Union, to the UK audience. He was not very popular among the English when in Downing Street: but he would be speaking from Scotland for the retention of a Union which polls show most English would prefer to have, even if they believe they cannot stand in the way of the will of the Scots.”
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Very little of this is true.

But it’s a quaint idea that the time has come for a retired politician who has shown no real interest in the Scottish Parliament since its inception to step up, that he would, or that he would be successful.

Brown has long ago operated at arms length from the public, appearing fleetingly at stage-managed events surrounded by party colleagues and supporters. The idea that a fresh new energy would be born from a Brown leadership is jaw-dropping. The entire generation of Brown’s Scottish Labour colleagues contained some impressive names, but none of them sought to run for office in Scotland. They were a generation who had instinctively known that political power rested at the heart of the British State. Returning to Scotland was something you did to visit the constituency, or the family. Westminster was what mattered and where you could advance your career.  The ambitious left for London. Scotland was the domestic space and the place you went on holidays or to go Munro-bagging. That’s not really their fault, that view of the world was pretty pervasive (and not just in politics) up until the 90s.

That London-centric worldview was true of much of pre-devolution Britain and we are still extricating ourselves from a vision of being endlessly peripheral.

It’s extremely unlikely that Brown will take charge. He’s currently an outsider at 20/1 with Anas Sarwar hot favourite at 8/11. Unless Monica Lennon or Jackie Baillie have ambition and a plan, Sarwar is a shoe-in; dropped in to the chaos from on-high without a real plan of change or vision.

As Chris Deerin suggests in the New Statesman: “The party goes into May’s Holyrood election in terrible shape. And it is an election that matters more than most, as a majority for the SNP would give it a mandate for a second independence referendum. Labour, which had once been the Union’s bulwark in Scotland, now barely registers. Its repeated, confused shifting of position on whether to support a referendum has allowed the Tories to become the nation’s main Unionist force, and also to push Labour into third place at the Scottish parliament, while the SNP has stolen its clothes on the centre left.”

There’s other factors than just the personal that make Scottish Labour’s predicament dire. The most obvious is the constitutional question and Labour’s complete inability to resolve it, oscillating between vague re-treads of a mythical Federalism, grandiose talk of UK-wide ‘constitutional conventions’, and occasional embracing of a hyper-Unionism, depending on who’s emphasis holds sway at that moment. Everything is reactive and chosen for tactical opportunist advantage (take for example Labour’s bizarre positioning on Trident).

Added to this Labour’s entire Brexit stance is massively confused and indefensible.

As the commentator Will Hutton put it: “The position of the once proud Scottish Labour party is tragic. Keir Starmer’s decision to embrace the unfolding debacle of Brexit means it has nothing to say in pro-EU Scotland. The resignation today of leader Richard Leonard changes nothing. Disaster in the May elections looms.”

While it might seem there’s some glee at all of this, there really isn’t. While Labour’s participation in Better Together was a terminal political event and their endless parade of leaders has made them a laughing stock, the reality is that Scotland needs far better opposition to hold the government to account and badly needs a strong left wing party to articulate radical ideas and confront the multiple social crises we face. Sadly the changes in personnel that we are about to see are unlikely to bring any of these things nearer.

Comments (20)

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  1. Robert says:

    In an independent Scotland a Labour Party would stand a very good chance of forming the government.

    1. Heidstaethefire says:

      “Would have stood,” Robert. I think they’re now beyond saving, despite the noises off from the Westminster bubble.

  2. norm says:

    Think there is an important point that Chris Deerin neglected…

    ‘while the SNP has stolen its clothes on the centre left and the Scottish Greens on the radical left.’

  3. Josef Ó Luain says:

    Your thoughts on what this new party might look like would be appreciated, Mike.

  4. Blair says:

    Gordon Brown’s views on Better Together and Scotland are just not compatible with the changes Scotland desires. As A New Labour leader, he and the party failed to understand that the 3rd Way required suitable 3rd Way Policies. Unfortunately for New Labour Tony Blair did not do God while he was PM.

    The SNP are far from perfect, but they provide protection from the poor governance eminating from Westminster and its broken government machine. Scotland needs real change, it needs new policies to protect the poor and disadvantaged. It needs to ensure that divisions and power of choice is enabled to the people through appropriate distribution and the use of digital technology.

    Scotland has to break free from England’s ideas of Union because the imbalances they are creating worldwide is destroying the world and leaving our future security in the hands of countries like China.

    The Queen of The South must be challenged by the King of The North.

    2021 Scottish Elections will give the SNP a mandate and should send a message. Whether that message gets anywhere this time around will be very much up to Scotlands readers and writers to challenge the SNP ideas: The SNP are caught in a closed loop, they must start to see England as Scotlands back yard, the English as just a set of migrants that live on a our land. The border, at one time at Hadrian’s wall but long before we were invaded there was no border.

    It’s time to remind the world, Scotland welcomes everyone but it must take back its true power, it’s borders and its Kingdom in order that correction to the ungodly system the Engish Imperialists have created through their Mother of all Parliaments at Westminster. The British Empire system is just not suitable to protect us from the Elite Global Giants. Ai Systems Technology alone is just not suitable to ensure our continuing freedoms.

    Our independent governments must work together. They must not just see the binary, the need to see in real 3D.

    0 and 1 looks like l and 1 if viewed from the Left or the Right hand side. Our politicians need to update their thinking and their perspective. We don’t need Black & White, we need to view things in full colour.

    Complex world systems require RI Technology. May God bless everyone as they follow Christ in a validated beginning for New Millennial Systems work.

    It’s time for Scotland to take a Quantum Leap.

    Our Kingdom is ready.

    -CVB.

  5. Derek says:

    Have both Jackie Baillies been plotting? Things must be serious…

  6. Willie says:

    ‘the reality is that Scotland needs far better opposition to hold the government to account and badly needs a strong left wing party to articulate radical ideas and confront the multiple social crises we face’ – that’s true but only in an independent Scotland. Anything while we are still in this one-sided union would be meaningless as the purse and the power are still in Westminster.

  7. Bill says:

    When will the Scottish Tories and Scottish Labour realise that their future lies in an independent Scotland where they can provide options at either end of the political spectrum that would be developed in the context of the will of the Scottish people and not at the whim of the current corrupt mob of Westminster Tories. Both Labour and Tories at Westminster respond to the Branch offices in the wilderness when there is enough clamour. If the SNP were to develop a central bank and a currency, and spread the word according to Richard Murphy, then in an independent Scotland there would be legitimate arguments to be mounted on a range of political strategies that could be developed by Scottish parties with more radical views. The ‘raison d’être’ of the SNP becomes debatable when independence is achieved. That is maybe why their focus is more on a referendum about independence, rather on independence itself. Better to have tried and failed to stay in power than to succeed and lose control.

    Bill

    1. Daniel Raphael says:

      Interesting idea, Bill–the fear of success. To a professional/lifestyle politician, any event that might appear to threaten their sinecure could indeed be a cause for unease. Do you think this concern widespread, or perhaps only a malady that afflicts a few among the pro-independence ranks of those currently holding office?

      1. Bill says:

        Hi Daniel, I think that it is a rot that is spreading. As the SNP has gone on, having a clear majority and then a majority supported by the Greens, so the ‘High Heid Yins’have started to enjoy the luxury of being in office without a serious challenge and the roles have become sinecures. The present corrupt, incompetent, lying useless bunch of Tories in Westminster are making it easy for Nicola and the SNP to maintain and increase their influence with little serious effort. Were they really up for being independent, then they would have started to correct the faults and flaws that lost the last referendum. Mainly sorting out the debt issue(see Richard Murphy – there would not be any) – developing the Central bank, determining the new currency and being ready to set things in motion on the achievement of a positive result in the referendum. The denial of a right to have another referendum does stoke the flames of desire, but what do we do when we get a substantial result in May and are no further forward. Action is needed now.

        Bill

    2. Robert says:

      Thanks for articulating what I suggested.

  8. Stuart Clark says:

    Can’t see Gordon Brown having an interest in leading Scottish Labour, he was a British Prime Minister after all.
    It would be like the CEO of Apple stepping down running a Laptop repair shop in Glenrothes.

    1. Julian Smith says:

      And what, pray, is wrong with Glenrothes?

    2. Joe Middleton says:

      I agree but doesn’t that just show up what Labour are about. They see Scotland as second-rate.

  9. MBC says:

    Totally agree on the need for an effective and credible opposition.

  10. James Mills says:

    If Neil Findlay really wants to ”change the ( Scottish ? ) Labour Party for the better ” why does he not name and shame all those MSPs that he accuses of backstabbing Richard Leonard ? Or is that a job for Hercules – to clean the Labour stables ?

    P.S. Isn’t a degree in ”backstabbing ” a prerequisite for a job with Labour ?

  11. SleepingDog says:

    Well, yes, the concluding paragraph suggests that human leaders are the problem for Scottish Labour. Creative ways could be sought to avoid the need, except for the official, mandatory protocols. Fortunately, the technology now exists for live, 3D animated avatars to conduct interviews and engage in debates. I would suggest something appropriately red, and a form that cannot be easily lampooned. A red, horned devil as Labour’s avatar-spokesthing might be ideal, connected to an AI-mediated interpreter of rank-and-file policy preferences. As the HD-camera zooms in, individual faces might appear on its skin like those in the famous illustration of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, mouthing their diverse viewpoints. Indeed, political-party avatar-battles might take over from current, stale debate formats, each special attack and defence move automatically and objectively computed to give a fair logical outcome to arguments. I look forward to tuning in to Labour’s contests with the SNP Sneetch and the Conservative Coelacanth.

    1. Blair says:

      “Fortunately, the technology now exists for live, 3D animated avatars to conduct interviews and engage in debates. I would suggest something appropriately red, and a form that cannot be easily lampooned. A red, horned devil as Labour’s avatar-spokesthing might be ideal, connected to an AI-mediated interpreter of rank-and-file policy preferences.”

      Live AI avatars just spit out the same standard responses as their creator. The red path is carpeted just for the appearance of having made it in the world.

      Technology is always improving, RI systems are better at imaging and can differentiate the differences between all reds and all reads.

      I realise that some of Bella Caledonia readers are unconvinced by what I write in comments on various threads, I therefore provide this link for them to read, check out the map and reconsider whether our English neighbours realise Scotland was Britain long before they took refuge on our land.

      https://www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com/britain-after-the-romans-left/

      Our Human leaders have deceived the world far too long. God’s Kingdom is ready for the world to be told the truth.

      Psalms 119 Psalms 119:46 “I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.”

      http://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=kingjames.kjvbible.freebible.dailyverses.kingjamesversion. VAU.

      Thank God for Scotland and Bella Caledonia.

      BREXIT is all about Scotland taking back it’s real estate and reestablishing a Scot Free lifestyle with the same freedom’s God originally bestowed in the Garden of Eden.

      מכתב פשוט כדי להתקדם האדמה של אלוהים נלקח ללב.

      -CVB.

    2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      Interestingly, Rousseau envisioned just such a general will (‘the outcome of fair (impartial), logical argument’) as emerging from the direct democracy of anonymous, impersonal citizen assemblies.

      Maybe some smart algorithm is possible whereby we could all input our individual wills to some legislative application, from which free exchange a general will would resolve itself and could then be executed as law, thus obviating the need for our current indirect modes of collective decision-making and the tyranny of the majority will.

      We could even call the app ‘Aequalis’ in a nod in the direction of Rousseau’s Social Contract.

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