Poor choices in Scottish Labour leadership poll

Submitted by martin on 22 November, 2011 - 5:27

By Anne Field

Ballot papers for the election of a new leader and deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party are being sent out this week. The closing date for the return of papers is 14th December, with the result being announced on 17th December.

Tom Harris MP, one of the three candidates for leader, has proclaimed himself to be the candidate who can “connect with voters from well beyond our traditional electoral base” (code for: things were okay when we had Blair).

Harris’s claim may or may not be true. But he certainly hasn’t been able to connect with many people in the Scottish Labour Party itself. Not a single MSP has nominated him, and he’s backed by just one Constituency Labour Party (CLP) – his own.

Harris has said that he decided to stand because he was “fed up with being on the losing side.” In which case, he ought to get ready for another dose of being fed up.

Ken Macintosh MSP, another candidate for leader, has proclaimed himself to be “the genuine change candidate in this election” (code for: Labour in Scotland is still too ‘Old Labour’ and has yet to complete its transformation into the real ‘New Labour’ commodity).

Macintosh’s New Labour credentials have won him some support from Westminster MPs (such as Jim Murphy, Alistair Darling and Willie Bain), various non-descript MSPs in Holyrood, ten CLPs and four trade unions (USDAW, Community, BECTU and the Musicians Union).

By default (i.e. because the other candidates are so bad) Johann Lamont has ended up as the candidate of the trade unions and the left (which is not the same as saying that she is a left-wing candidate).

Lamont is the current deputy leader in Scotland. As an MSP she has a record of voting for right-wing legislation at Holyrood. As deputy leader she shares in the blame for Labour’s debacle in last May’s elections.

Even so, she has managed to win support from leftish MSPs such as Neil Findlay (and from some very un-leftish MSPs: Hanzala Malik) and leftish MPs such as Katy Clark. Unions backing her include ASLEF, the CWU, Unite, Unison and the GMB.

Her election address, however, is devoid of politics. She promises to renew Labour values, reform Labour to win, bring passion to opposition and government, grow Scotland’s economy, restore fairness, and “argue for powers that will benefit the people of Scotland” (whatever they may be).

There are also three candidates contesting the deputy leader’s position.

Lewis Macdonald MSP has no more chance of becoming deputy leader than Tom Harris (one of the three MPs backing him) has of becoming party leader. He has the support of two CLPs apart from his own, and no trade union nominations at all.

In terms of nominations, Anas Sawar MSP is by far the front-runner for deputy leader: 19 MSPs, 24 MPs, 19 CLPs and four trade unions (USDAW, Community, BECTU and the NUM).

Sawar is making a bid for the left vote. He has signed up to the People’s Charter and talks of Labour being based in the trade unions and in the community:

“Our party’s tradition lies in trade unionism and community activism, and I think that our future lies there too. Sadly, the Labour movement and the Labour Party are now two separate entities in Scotland. They must come together again.”

Despite his pitch for the left vote, Sawar belongs on the Blairite ‘New Labour’ wing of the party. Hence his support for David Miliband in last year’s Party leadership elections. And hence the support he has received from the likes of Dougie Alexander, Alistair Darling, Eric Joyce and Jim Murphy for his deputy leadership bid.

Nor is it coincidence that the unions backing Sawar are virtually identical to the ones backing the unapologetic ‘New Labour’ Ken Macintosh.

The third deputy leader candidate is Ian Davidson, backed by the same unions as those supporting Lamont, but nominated by far fewer MSPs, MPs and CLPs.

Davidson really does see himself not just as the candidate of the left in the deputy leadership elections but as the candidate who really is left-wing:

“I am supporting the pensions action on 30th November – and so should Labour! When the Tories propose that ordinary people pay the price of a crisis caused by the bankers, I know which side I am on – and so should the Labour Party.”

“New Labour often appeared more interested in rich people than working people. We lost touch. Pursuing policies like the Iraq war – which I voted against – was out of step with our values and those of the people.”

Like Lamont in the leadership elections, Davidson has ended up as the candidate of the unions and the left in the deputy leader elections (if not with a greater degree of justification, then at least perhaps with less incongruity).

Davidson could be said to be representative of a current on the left: that of the Labour Co-ordinating Committee of 1980s (which was really set up to stop any further shift to the left by the Labour Party) and the left-bureaucratic politics of the “Morning Star”.

It is a sad commentary on the state of the left in the Labour Party in Scotland that it was unable to stand any candidates of its own and that it can now find no-one better (i.e. less worse) to vote for than Lamont and Davidson.

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