Defend Scottish Labour-union links!

Submitted by Matthew on 11 January, 2012 - 11:54

Johann Lamont MSP has been elected leader of the Scottish Labour Party, winning 52% of the electoral college vote.

Ken Macintosh MSP came second with 40% and Tom Harris MP a poor third with 8%.

Lamont’s lacklustre platform said little about her record (as deputy leader of the Labour Group in Holyrood) and had only empty platitudes to offer about her proposals for the future of the party.

Even so, Lamont ended up as the default “support-her-to-keep-even-worse-out” candidate of the left and the unions: Ken Macintosh is a right-wing “moderniser”, and Tom Harris an unashamed ultra-Blairite.

Lamont won amongst parliamentarians and even more so among the affiliated trade unions. But she came a poor second, to Ken Macintosh, among individual party members.

The result has revived arguments about the involvement of trade unions in the Labour Party.

Proposals to reduce the trade unions’ share of the vote in the electoral college were voiced by some Scottish Labour Party right-wingers in the months preceding the election campaign, but not energetically pursued at the time.

Late on Tom Harris called on trade unions to be “prevented” from having a say in leadership and deputy leadership elections.

After the election Macintosh made thinly disguised calls for a “review” of the electoral college: “Some of our structures look perhaps a little bit out of place these days…”

This was followed by an article in the Scotsman by former Glasgow Lord Provost and Glasgow Central CLP chair Michael Kelly, according to which:

“The attitude of the unions is a Rubicon of despair all on its own. They continue to pick, as Labour leader, politicians who have the least chance of winning… They compound the Miliband mistake by doing the same thing in Scotland.”

“Their huge unfair slice of the electoral college ensured that Johann Lamont won and blocked the change that ordinary party members — and, more importantly, voters — wanted.”

“She’ll be pursuing their [the unions’] policies despite the evidence that they are not the policies that will restore Labour in Scotland or the UK. They weren’t in 1979 … and they are not now.”

Right now the anti-union right wing in the party will feel emboldened to attack the party’s links with the unions in the name of “democracy”.

The fact that the Party is now led at both national and Scottish levels by two singularly lacklustre figures will only encourage the right-wingers to argue that giving the unions a say in party leadership elections undermines Labour’s chances of beating the Tories and the SNP.

The left in the party and the unions need to tackle arguments against the union link head-on:

• Trade unions set up the Labour Party, are its main source of income, and provide additional human and financial resources at election times. That’s why they have a say in Labour Party affairs.

• The real undemocratic element in Labour’s electoral college is that 300 plus parliamentarians have the same share of the vote as millions of trade unionists and the entire individual membership of the party.

• The real threat to democracy in the Labour Party does comes from the unelected party officials who manipulate selection contests and party conferences in order to stifle dissident voices in the party.

• Labour has loses elections because of its poor performance in power.

• The leadership contest provided an opportunity for candidates to campaign against current trade union input into the party. Only Tom Harris chose to do so – winning a derisory share of the vote as a result.

• It is true that SNPers (and the Tories) attack the Labour’s links with the unions. But that does not mean that there is a problem with such links. What is does mean is that the SNP (and the Tories) have an anti-trade-union agenda.

• Rather than the scrapping or weakening of Labour’s links with the unions, what is needed is to restore closer links between the unions and the party at all levels — from local branch level through to the Parliamentary Labour Party.

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