In the Herald today:
‘SCOTTISH Labour is braced for a near wipe out in its heartlands at next year’s local elections with the party trailing the Tories in many of its core constituencies. Figures leaked to the Herald from Labour’s own internal polling shows the party has failed to recover from its dismal election performance at Westminster where it returned just one MP nor at this year’s Holyrood ballot where it slid into third place. Around one quarter of its support has transferred to the Scottish Conservatives since 2015.’
To win in 2020, UK Labour needs to win back their Scottish seats and achieve an overall majority in the UK or form a progressive alliance against the Tories, Ulster Unionists and UKIP with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. The chances of the former are remote indeed as the SNP seem likely to add dominance of local politics, in 2017, to their current hegemony at Holyrood, in Westminster and in Brussels.
On Thursday 5th May, Sky News reported Jeremy Corbyn as saying:
‘We Won’t Abandon Scottish Labour. There is a lot of building to do in Scotland. We’re going to walk hand in hand with the party in Scotland to build that support again and re-establish Labour traditions.’
Only two months later, on 11th August, we read in the Herald:
‘A furious row has erupted within Labour after the party’s new shadow Scottish Secretary refused to rule out a possible coalition with the SNP.’
Then on the 8th October, there was:
‘When asked whether he viewed voters who support independence, because of their distrust and anger at the Westminster establishment, as part of a broad progressive movement, Corbyn said “absolutely”.’
Now, I know that none of this proves what my headline suggests but pragmatically for UK Labour it makes tremendous sense and it’s not just my idea. Back in March, 2016, the National newspaper had been sniffing the air and detected the whiff of betrayal:
‘Is Corbyn happy to watch the Scottish Labour Party sink?’
In an unattributed ‘comment’, signs were detected in the entrails suggesting evidence for the idea that UK Labour was shifting in the way suggested in my headline. In particular, Corbyn’s failure to address the Scottish Labour Conference before the election sent a strong signal that UK Labour was not going to take any casualties itself to try to save the Scottish leader, Kezia Dugdale, or to share responsibility for the predicted massacre. Milliband, Brown and Blair had all attended previous pre-election conferences in Scotland. The National wondered:
‘Corbyn will instead be going door-to-door asking people to vote for the UK to remain in the EU. The question is: who is avoiding whom? Has Dugdale told Corbyn to stay away? Or is Corbyn staying away in a bid to distance himself from Scottish Labour’s sinking?’
Further weakening the bonds between Corbyn’s UK Labour and Dugdale’s Scottish Labour, there is a powerful, combined, personal and ideological, schism between the two. Dugdale, it is suggested, represents a more ‘centrist’ or ‘rightist’ Labour Party but it has been her personal reaction to Corbyn’s leadership that makes it hard to see why the latter would want to help her survive in any way. Even after a second convincing leadership win for Corbyn, she seemed out of touch with the majority:
‘Kezia Dugdale plunged her party into a fresh crisis yesterday, claiming Jeremy Corbyn cannot unite Labour or win a general election just minutes after he was re-elected as UK leader. His mandate enhanced by a convincing 62-38 win over Owen Smith, Corbyn told Labour members in Liverpool: “I have no doubt that this party can win the next general election.” But almost immediately Dugdale contradicted him in an interview with BBC News.’
Kezia is not alone. The Scottish Labour Party has had no equivalent to the Corbyn revolution in England and remains wedded to New Labour thinking. It’s not that long since its members thought that electing Jim Murphy as leader made sense. On October 9th, we read in the left-leaning Tribune:
‘The uncomfortable fact for the Scottish Labour right wing is that these good people, some 120,000 of them in the SNP, many Greens, at least a third of their own members. and many more in non-party ‘Yes’ groups, have far more in common with Corbyn’s English hundreds of thousands than with them.
OK, I rest my case. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. We’ll see over the next two to three years.
What then of my second suggestion that Scottish Labour’s PR department, otherwise known as BBC Scotland, is drifting toward the exit doors? If Scottish Labour is fatally weakened then who will defend the Union? More important for BBC Scotland and especially for its senior staff who got their jobs and their promotions via New Labour affiliations or allegiance, how can they best continue their work. Unlike UK Labour they cannot possible form a strategic alliance with the SNP so who can they now favour? In the wider UK, BBC elites fear the Tories especially its right-wing which would gleefully do them down. Nevertheless, needs must, they are beginning to show signs of this kind of cold pragmatism. In England, they will continue a sullen hostility toward the Tories but in Scotland they will move toward a subtle favouritism for them. It’s the kind of Realpolitik you see in Syria where the US supports an al-Qaeda affiliate because that group opposes the Syrian regime and its Russian backers. I’m stretching this point a bit I know.
Where’s the evidence? Well these are early days but there are signs. In my own research, I’ve recently demonstrated:
‘There, you have just three very recent bad news story headlines about the Scottish Tories, Scotland’s official opposition, neglected by BBC Scotland. Even if we accept that BBC Scotland has no business damaging the Scottish Tories’ ‘reputation’ with the endless faux pas and corruption of UK Tories such as Boris Johnson’s flip-flopping over Brexit or playing on his phone as the PM speaks or Amber Rudd’s offshore activities, the Scottish Toryboys have been providing plenty for the ever-Labour-faithful Daily Record to rage at so why are BBC Scotland ignoring these stories? Further and perhaps more important why are BBC Scotland protecting her this way?’
Similarly Indyref2 have argued:
‘Unionists need Davidson to be star. Her Labour contemporary is an acknowledged failure, UK Labour are in open civil war and Brexit is about to become an open-sore. So she’ll be portrayed as a star. If the Scottish media can push a line that Ruth Davidson is the most popular leader in Scotland, they can push anything.’
So, there you have it. Making predictions about political outcomes is not always a clever thing to do but I’ve done it now. What’s done is done as Lady MacBeth said, I think.