2007 - 2022

Keir Starmer visits Scotland to unveil go it-alone strategy recipe for defeat  

No co-operation with other opposition parties is Labour’s General Election promise.
Mark Perryman argues this will only have one result.

There’s no doubt Keir Starmer is a bright bloke, he didn’t get to be Director of Public Prosecutions, and a knighthood for his troubles, without the ability to analyse a case. Some even call his analysis of a problem positively forensic.  Yet the arguments for Labour’s General Election strategy Keir made in a widely reported Daily Record interview during his recent visit to Scotland are patently absurd.

“You can’t vote for another party and get a Labour government in Westminster.” Keir Starmer

There are umpteen seats across England where voting for another opposition party, the Lib Dems, is the only way to defeat the incumbent Tory.  Vote Labour out of loyalty, because this is what we believe in,  to contribute towards a better result the next time, sure, there’s a certain sense of honour in such a deed, but to get a Labour Government , fat chance. Keir knows that but cannot countenance any kind of admission this is the situation Labour faces.

I live in Lewes, East Sussex. Never elected a Labour MP but home to Tom Paine, the Bloomsbury Group too, it has never been, and isn’t now, true blue.  Until 1970 Labour would come a decent second but after the ’74 Jeremy Thorpe bounce fell to third behind the Liberal Party and various successors, Labour has never recovered.   In the ’97 Landslide the Lib Dems won the seat, like many of their targets Labour voters exhausted with 18 years of defeat in Lewes and many other such Tory/Lib Dem marginals voted tactically and the result, a Labour victory .

Maintaining the pretense that this is precisely the situation in so many seats does nothing to persuade Lib-Dem or Green  voters  in the English Tory/Labour marginals a vote for  their candidate can only ensure a Tory victory. Keir’s substation of the forensic with the gung-ho is both dishonest and bad politics.  It is the product of a Labourism that refuses to recognise an increasingly plural politics.  Across England a three, often four party line up on the ballot paper. Not sufficient to be reflected by our unrepresentative  electoral system but more than enough to deny the  best-placed opposition party victory over a minority Tory vote in these seats.  Scotland, of course, is different, a four, sometimes five party system, the product first of a representative electoral system for the Scottish Parliament, then providing the platform for the SNP 2015 wipeout of Scottish Labour  at Westminster following the Gordon Brown’s starring role as the Tories little helper defending the Union in the referendum a year previously.

“There’ll be no coalition going into those elections and no coalition coming out of it.” Keir Starmer

Keir knows it, Boris Johnson certainly knows it, Nicola Sturgeon too, in the likely event Labour fails to achieve an overall majority but manages to outscore the Tories as the   single largest party the only option is coalition government.   And short of a successful independence referendum before the next General Election, which precisely for this reason Johnson will ensure one isn’t held before then, the SNP will almost certainly be the second largest opposition party at Westminster not the Lib Dems , as the are now something the English left too often absent-mindedly forgets. If Keir is ruling out a coalition in any circumstances he’s ruling himself out of Number Ten short of the kind of surge in the polls there is absolutely no evidence of his leadership attracting. A surge in support that would need to be even bigger than Blair’s 1994-1997 because of the 40 Labour seats lost in 2015 and after as small recovery in 2017 lost all over again in 2019. So more patent absurdity, more dishonesty in Keir’s outright rejection of coalition government even if it’s the only way he’ll get into Number Ten.

“A test of how progressive you are is what you’re doing on climate change and they’ve manifestly failed on that. The SNP has failed to live up to the promises it made the people of Scotland.” Keir Starmer

After some cos-playing about how he’d be happy to meet Nicola Sturgeon on his visit, he didn’t, but it would be him who’d set the agenda not the elected First Minister of Scotland, Keir made some well-chosen criticism of the SNP record on tackling the climate emergency. On the vexed issue of the proposed Cambo North Sea oilfield development admirably Keir on his visit, with Anas Sarwar nodding sagely beside him, came out resolutely against it, advocating the need for  a “hard-edged timetable”before refusing in what has become an unwelcome habit of vagueness in place of commitment to say what that timetable might be.

It’s not only easy to criticise the SNP on climate emergency action it’s correct too. And it’s good that Keir sees this as a cardinal test for progressivism as well.  So we should look forward to Labour implacably opposing airport expansion, ending its support for the nuclear power industry, providing the policies to make a dramatic shift in our agricultural system to feed a non-meat diet and more. Yes, Labour has the basis of some excellent policies on the Climate Emergency but as a test for progressivism its commitment to productivism leaves it fatally compromised, will Keir face this head on?

His assault on the SNP’s climate record on the basis of what constitutes progressive according to his Daily Record interview is part and parcel of an overall, approach; “Starmer said it was a mistake to see the SNP government as a progressive force, as many on Labour’s left still do.” Labour is Labour, the SNP, Lib-Dems, Greens, in Wales Plaid, each have strengths and weaknesses. Voters, all but the most ardent party loyalist, recognise this. Few vote for, or join, a party as a model of perfection. Some choose to stand outside this party system entirely preferring a social movementist politics.  Others mix and match, the party, whichever one, co-existing, complementing, the movements, and vice versa.

Surely it is the role of leadership to encourage dialogue between different parties, and none, who broadly share the same values while maintaining important differences.  Can’t leaders both stick up for their own party and politics while sparking co-operation on the terrain of a common cause for the greater good?  Keir’s visit to Scotland seems to have had the sole ambition of ruling out both, perhaps next time he’ll find a better reason for making the trip.


Mark Perryman is a member of the Labour Party in Lewes East Sussex. His latest book is Corbynism from Below.




Comments (35)

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  1. Glasgow Clincher says:

    This endorsement of Starmer seems a strange position for someone who has supposedly analysed the Corbyn movement and admits that Keir, as he calls him, is well behind in the polls. Corbyn’s weakness was in being far too conciliatory in accommodating the right wing of the party: compare that to the ruthless savagery with which a Starmer regime has removed those elements of the party which was supposedly to lead to a revival in fortunes in the Red Wall and elsewhere.

    The conclusion is that he doesn’t really want to be in government, but to ensure that the Establishment remains in safe hands.

    1. Did you read that as an endorsement of Starmer? (!)

      1. Mark Perryman says:

        If that was an ‘endorsement’ of Keir by me, even I’d dread to think what I’d write as a critique

        1. Glasgow Clincher says:

          I think McLean (see below) produces more of what I would see as a critique. Essentially you focus on one issue (climate change) and seem to see Starmer’s failure to seek power via the coalition route as your criticism, while failing to see that Sir Keir has already done his bit to save the Establishment from the ‘Left peril.’ Job done, he can now safely retire.

          1. Wul says:

            Jonathon Coe’s novel “What a Carve Up!” was instructive to me in this regard (making sure The Establishment stays in control).

            In the book, privately educated university graduates casually decide whether to “Go into politics” or “The City” and dither about which party; Labour or Tory, they should choose as the best vehicle for their ambition.

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            Yon’s no a critique; it’s a bilious rant.

  2. Maclean says:

    The Westminster ,colonialist , imperialist and tin pot one party state is the utopia that only radical far right masquerading as unionist would support. The English and unionists just don’t see or get why the Scots don’t want to be ruled by Westminster and a government they never voted for . It’s the Empire lost syndrome that they can’t suffer so they impose their Westminster Jimmy Savile styled politics on the rest and pass it off as democracy. Colonialism and imperialism are criminal offences under international law , so why have Scotland to ask for freedom . What we have is a colonial terrorist organisation running Westminster and using their colonist power to suppress another nation. They don’t see the harm and abuse for what it is. It must be their paedophile mindset ,where they can’t switch off their “ this must be wrong “ part and switch on the “ this must be right “ part in the face of everyone that doesn’t have the paedophile gene seeing past the Grooming and Lies. We all have the Right to Choose and it’s not for others to say “No “ to that choice. Colonialism is wrong and the people who support colonialism and abuse are wrong . Why do leaders stand up a state their support for such an oppressive regime or are they trapped in the web of lies and abuse thats now taken as normal.

  3. Tom Ultuous says:

    Starmer’s only hope is to dig up some dirt on Murdoch or do a Blair and promise him whatever he wants.

  4. Robbie says:

    Enjoyed reading your post Maclean ,also never thought I’d see the day labour would be led by a “SIR “

    1. Ann Rayner says:

      Robbie and Maclean, I agree completely and urgently want to escape from the colonial situation we are now in.
      I just wish the SNP government would get a move on,

  5. Cathie Lloyd says:

    I wonder what Mark is making of the SNP/Greens pact? Seems to have passed him by.

    1. Mark Perryman says:

      Not at all, though it certainly seems to have passed Keir by. Its the right move by two left-of-centre pro-independence parties, and leaves a Unionist Scottish Labour even further out on the margins.

  6. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    It was noteworthy that BBC Scotland portrayed Mr Starmer’s visit to Scotland, at the same time as the Prime Minister, as possibly, the resumption of the Better Together alliance against independence. This was trailed the previous day on the BBC website in an article by Nick Eardley casting doubt on the likelihood of an independence referendum soon. And, of course, The Daily Record, which published the infamous and mendacious “Vow” in 2014, promising the nearest thing to federalism within two years, has been Mr Starmer’s pulpit to join Johnson in the ‘No referendum’ line.

    So BBC Scotland has yoked Starmer and Johnson in refusing Scotland’s democratic right. This will certainly not encourage those who have deserted Labour in droves in Scotland to vote for it again. His refusal to consider an alliance with the SNP at Westminster in the event of a hung Parliament has put him in the same bind as dished Mr Ed Milliband.

    So, it is, indeed, ‘a policy for defeat’.

    Mr Perryman is probably right that Labour should develop eco policies, not only for electoral calculation but also because it is right. However, many of the working class voters in the north of England, who now either abstain or vote for Johnson, and actually like him, both for ‘getting Brexit done’ and because they see him as a ‘good bloke’, are pretty hostile to eco policies. So, he will have to develop other policies on social security, employment, and real policies on redistribution of powers and investment away from Westminster and the hedge fund clique which controls it and to whom Blair and execrable Brown, sold out in 1997. Since Brown is advising Starmer (as well as advising GOVE) and since Starmer is a Blairite who accepted a knighthood, and is playing the patriotic (i.e. English nationalist) card, I think he is still thirled to Thatcherism with a smiling face. Johnson is outflanking him with his usual waffle about levelling up and public spending, even though most people.

  7. JP58 says:

    For our friend in Lewes.
    SNP about to enter into informal coalition with Greens which should help with current environmental shortcomings.
    KS refusal to accept Scots Parliament right to hold another will almost certainly ensure no Labour revival in Scotland at next GE and further reduce chances of Labour majority.
    The longer Labour refuse will of Holyrood the longer any possible recovery will take for Labour in Scotland either pre or post Independence.

    1. Mark Perryman says:

      Agree with all this, no only is pro-indendepence the right policy for a truly Scottish Labour Party, short of a yes result in the referendum before any General Election it is the only basisfor a Labour reovery Nortyh of the Border. Both the English Left and Unionist Labour more or less blithely ignore the consequences for Labour in a British General Election of losing 40 out of 41 Scottish seats to the SNP, the recent visit shows Keir and Anas share entirely that proces of ignoring.

  8. John B. Dick says:

    The Bain principle fits with FPTP Westminster party games.

    It is not appropriate in d’Hondt PR.

    The S.Lab branch office is controlled from London by people who don’t understand that.

    It isn’t Scotland that needs independence, it’s S.Lab and remainer S.Con

  9. Observer says:

    So Labour now officially opposes oil and gas exploration in the U.K. This is seen as setting an example to the rest of the world, but really looks at the problem from the wrong end of the telescope. Oil is a global commodity. Having it supplied by Iraq or Saudi Arabia or Scotland doesn’t change the carbon calculus as the demand for oil doesn’t change just because Starmer is fastidious about exploration here. Other countries can easily ramp up production to compensate and enjoy the profits.

    If net zero policies are so effective, why would multinational oil companies want to invest West of Shetland? Surely global demand for oil will plummet since renewables etc. are apparently so cheap, reliable and globally scalable.

    Why don’t the politicians tell us what they really think? Advocates for net zero are keen to tell us what will happen if “we” don’t accelerate away from carbon, but they shy away from telling people how this change will affect their lives.

    Nor do they explain how to impose net zero policies on billions of poorer people who want access to more energy. A carbon border tax might help encourage change but it will make us all poorer. Time to be up front about that reality.

  10. Peter Thomson says:

    Another badly informed Labour Party trying to tell Scots what is bad for them.

    Problem … the SNP already are acknowledged by many in the climate change world of being far ahead of the UK in dealing with the problem.

    Oil and gas is reserved to Westminster which has been subsidising this area while holding back renewables in Scotland.

    Keir Starmer’s “SNP bad” line may play well among Labour in England but is well past being a sick joke in Scotland.

    The premise of Starmer’s attack is reliant on people not understanding all energy policy is reserved to Westminster and the funding for Scottish renewables both wind and tidal plus the new grid infrastructure required is coming from the Scottish Government purse.

    This summer Scotland has met it’s own power requirements from renewable sources leaving some 700 megawatts a day to be exported to England from the two nuclear plants and renewable surplus generation.

    Most Scottish voters see no difference between Labour and the Tories, they are seen as “English parties” along with what is left of the Libdems.

    Labour need to give up on the idea of a revival in Scotland, it is not happening, the left in Scotland is going Green as a better alternative. The STUC are ambivalent about Labour as its membership increasingly support Scottish Independence.

    So when it comes to Starmer’s cunning plan of ignoring the SNP this is up there with Boris’ crass comments on pit closures in Scotland.

    The reality is the SNP have 50% of the popular vote share in Scotland, Labour are on 18%, just ahead of the Greens. Scotland has returned a large majority of SNP MPs to Westminster, Labour has one.

    If Starmer wants half a chance in a GE he needs the SNP as allies or plays to the crass “British” (aka English) nationalism that gave us Brexit and fails again because the Tories are far better at that game.

    It is all likely to be moot as an independence referendum early in 2022 will see Starmer’s Labour Party’s future in Scotland being terminated.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      The Labour Party has always been wary of ‘partnerships’ with other parties. Against its better judgement, it unwisely made deals with the nationalists in 1978 in return for devolution and lost power when fewer than 40% of voters in Scotland voted for it and the SNP took the huff and transferred its support to the Tories in order to bring the Labour government down, in a move that Jim Callaghan described (borrowing David Penhaligon’s phrase) as ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’. (It was shortly after this that, to increase its market share of voters in Scotland, the SNP successfully rebranded itself as a ‘left-wing’ party in direct competition with Labour; and the rest, as they say, is history.)

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        Colin, You are repeating a Labour Party myth to transfer the blame for the fall of the Callaghan Government. In his memoirs, Callaghan was in no doubt that it was members of his own party – i.e. those who added the iniquitous 40% rule to the Scotland Act. In 1979 referendum, YES won, but because this sleekit rule meant that the will of the majority of voters in Scotland was not recognised.

        In any case, the Government was close to the end of its tenure and was unlikely to win the subsequent election, even if the motion of ‘no confidence’ had failed. Again, in his memoir, Callaghan observed that there come times when enough of the general public feel there is a need for change. His government was knackered, and the vultures of international capital were circling. After the fall of Heath in 1973 and Mrs Thatcher took over, she with the active connivance of the press and media began destroying the post war consensus between Labour and the Tories, from Attlee to Heath, and began to deploy triumphalist British/English nationalist rhetoric couple with a different economic paradigm, away from the Keynesianism which had been hegemonic, internationally, since Franklin Roosevelt became US President in the 1930s.

        After Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock got gubbed, Labour decided they had to adopt the Thatcherite paradigm. They became the Tories in a different coloured strip. Sure, they had some redistributive policies which they implemented, but during their 13 years they moved steadily rightwards, especially with overt Atlanticism, imperialist wars. When the charmless Bodger Broon became PM he did not know what to do with the post: he had wanted to become PM because he wanted to become PM. He was unable to articulate a vision and fell back on British nationalist language – union flags on Government buildings, ‘British jobs for British workers’, ‘no more apologies for the imperial past’, his crass conduct at the time of the Lisbon Treaty, his friendship with the Daily Mail editor, and his invitation, as first guest to Number 10, the already fully demented Margaret Thatcher..

        Starmer is being advised by the Bodger and is a neoThatcherite, who hopes to get Buggins’ turn if he does not make any substantive promises.

        If there are ‘nationalists, Mr Robertson, they are in the Labour Party, – British/English ones, not in the SNP

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          That’s right, Yes ‘won’ with 33% of the available vote. Hardly an expression of the general will of the Scottish people.

          But, yes; socialism was already dead on its feet by the time the SNP backed the Tories in their vote of no confidence. Then the world changed, and here we are.

          Meanwhile, are you seriously suggesting that there are no nationalists in the Scottish National Party?

          1. Alasdair Macdonald says:


            No, of course there are ‘nationalists’ of the unpleasant type in the SNP – I was being provocative in response to parts of your post! But the expulsion of groups like Siol nan Gael and Alex Salmond’s concept of ‘civic nationalism’, means that the ugly ‘blood and soil’ overtones are the province of but a few. (I am not and never have been an SNP member, nor of any political party.)

            Indeed, it was only 33% of the electorate who voted YES in 1979, but, under the FPTP system how many UK governments of the past, even under universal suffrage, as had as much support of the electorate as that?

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            Yes, the SNP’s adoption of civic nationalism in the 1980s under Alex Salmond’s leadership is to be applauded; though it still doesn’t seem to have worked through the implications this has for nation-building, where the thinking is still steeped in all sorts of historic/cultural nonsense.

            And two wrongs don’t make a right: our current FPTP majoritarian régime is rubbish at producing the general or collective will of an electorate. Only pluralism – whereby democracy is a continuous bargaining process between competing sovereign interests rather than the periodic alienation of sovereignty to one or other party or coalitions thereof – can do that.

          3. Alasdair Macdonald says:

            I do not disagree with the gist of your arguments here. The civic nationalism was something which attracted the huge numbers of former Labour voters in the West and Central areas of Scotland. The cultural/historic dimension is an essential part of nation-building, but, it is only one. “Culture” evolves continually and with regard to ‘history’ we have to ask, ‘whose history’? One of the most promising developments in history in Scotland in the past 30/40 years is the production of ‘histories’ of Scotland and places within it which are different from the British nationalist myth we were fed in school.

            The systems chosen for Holyrood and for Council elections have undoubtedly brought substantial changes, but we do need further redistribution of powers from Holyrood to Councils, including meaningful revenue raising powers, and, we also need a further devolution of powers to community levels, where the kind of dialogue you recommend can be pursued in a continuing way

          4. Colin Robinson says:

            I’ve much less time than you do for the idea that some historic-cultural identity is essential to nationality. A nation is an imagined community that consists in nothing more than the fact that its members participate in the civic life of that community. Its identity has b*gg*r all to do with shared history or culture – or ethnicity of any sort – but is purely political. I’m Scottish just because I vote and pay my taxes with the jurisdiction of a specific authority, not because of any nativity or bloodline or other heritage. That’s the essence of civic nationalism; everything else is othering shibboleth.

          5. Alasdair Macdonald says:


            A nation is, indeed, an ‘imagined community’ and to have a ‘community’ we have to have something which identifies us with that community. I concur with your understanding of ‘civic nationalism’ pretty closely, but I think that, it is inevitable that some kind of cultural/historical dimensions will emerge. Such things are not always malign and, I think it was what the much-maligned (in the right wing media) multiculturalism was trying to get at.

            Recently, in Glasgow the Govanhill Festival took place after a gap of a year. As you know this is a pretty diverse community and the festival is a way for the various groups who live in the area can share parts of their culture and history while, at the same time, seeking to create the kind of human bonds of respect which give communities a sens of cohesion.

          6. Colin Robinson says:

            Indeed. And what defines that community and identifies us with it, irrespective of our ‘ethnicity’ (bloodline or cultural inheritance), is the simple fact of our common citizenship, of our shared participation in its civic life.

            I know Govanhill fairly well; my eldest son lives and works there. It’s an exemplary community, in which everyone can get on with their own lives relatively unmolested, and in which more or less everyone respects the right of every other to go their own variant ways in matters of practice and belief. And (crucially) you don’t have to identify with any particular ethnicity to identify with that community, and (equally crucially) no particular ethnicity is privileged over any other within that community.

            Govanhill (and other communities like it) isn’t perfect; no community ever is. But it exhibits just the sort of pluralism or absence of historic-cultural identity to which Scotland as a larger imagined community or ‘nation’ can aspire.

      2. Mark Perryman says:

        You’re right, wary is putting it mildly.

        But it would beggar belief if Labour fails to win an overall majority but could form a governmrnt with any combinati of SNP, Lib-Dem, Plaid, SDLP, Green MPs if it then didnt’.

        Nobody believes Labour wouldn’t so what is achieved by ruling this out, aka lying.


        1. Colin Robinson says:

          What would be achieved? It would deny power to the SNP at Westminster. It wouldn’t do Labour any good whatsoever in a UK election campaign to declare that it would share power with a party that isn’t interested in helping to deliver a stable government for the UK but whose strategy is rather to destabilise that government in the interests of Scottish independence.

          1. Mark Perryman says:

            Thats all well and good if Labour is twenty points ahead in the polls by the time a General Election campaign starts. Bu in the event it isn’t the only likelihoods are either outright defeat, again, or governing as the single largest party in coalition with other opposition parties, it is entirely dishonest to rule out the latter.

          2. Alasdair Macdonald says:

            Mark, the problem which Colin has identified has its roots in the FPTP system, which, for all of my life has been a ‘winner takes all’ system. So, neither Labour nor the Conservatives – the beneficiaries of this buggins’ turn system for 100 years – can put out feelers to another party (nor do I think they want to because it might get people thinking that what has been happening does not have to happen!)

            In most parts of the EU and EFTA, the electoral system is one or other kind of proportional system and the electorate all know that deals are going to be made before a government can be formed. So, by making overtures and promises in advance of an election does not stymie the chances of being elected. Whereas in FPTP, it is a polarised choice – Tory or Labour and both parties want to keep it that way. This is why Labour fails to grasp the constitutional issue seriously and, in my view, until it does, it is going to wither in England as it has done in Scotland. The Labour Party in Wales understands that constitutional change is necessary and inevitable. But, given the size of Wales compared to England then, as far as Labour is concerned the noises from the party in Wales are like farts in a thunderstorm.

            Of course, proportional systems can get stalemated as has happened in Israel for the past 4/5 years and happened in Belgium for a couple of years a few years ago. However, these countries have constitutions with powers devolved to various levels in the community. In Belgium these devolved and separated powers go down to the district level. So, although there was a stasis at centrral government level, the country continued to function pretty well.

            Labour is even more the British/English nationalist party than the Tories, whose current leadership hold passports from various places, have houses in several countries and most of their wealth stashed overseas. For the Tories, playing the jingoist card, as we have seen during the recent Olympics and the continual re-fighting of World War 2, is just a cynical campaigning ploy. As far as they are concerned ‘Britain’ is what they say it is and the rest of us great unwashed should know our places and dae whit we’re tellt!

          3. Colin Robinson says:

            No, it’s not; it’s politicking. Keir can always rule it back in again should the occasion arise after an election and it becomes politically expedient to do so.

            Maybe he should have prefaced his declaration by making explicit the suppressed ‘get-out’ condition: ‘All else being equal…’ But who in politics does so qualify their declarations? (See the guddle such subtlety got Corbyn into over Brexit.)

    2. Mark Perryman says:

      Hi, is that a serious timetable for an Independence Referendum? Before the next General Election? What is the basis for such an expectation?

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        Remember, the next Holyrood election is 2026.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          And what’s the likelihood of Westminster authorising a referendum before 2026?

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