LABOUR has begun to recover its fortunes in Scotland, rebuilding from the wreckage to which a succession of Blairite leaders had reduced the once powerful party.
Two-and-a-half years after Jeremy Corbyn was elected party leader on an all-Britain basis, Scottish Labour backed Richard Leonard as the candidate whose political approach is closest to Corbyn’s.
Most importantly, Leonard’s preferred policies are also closest to those of Scottish Labour members, as the Dundee conference shows.
Corbyn’s stewardship was marred until last year’s general election by a series of co-ordinated resignations, anti-leader attacks in the mass media and generalised disloyalty by MPs convinced they knew better than the membership.
Labour’s far better than forecast election results served to chasten those working against the leadership and helped the party to regroup into a strong challenger to ongoing Tory government.
Within Scotland, research carried out for Labour places the party now on 30 per cent, just four percentage points behind the ruling SNP and six ahead of the Tories who, just a year ago, were entertaining fancies of being in a two-horse race with the nationalists.
But, while Labour’s divisive tendency in Westminster has largely settled down, the message doesn’t seem to have been communicated to its Scotland branch.
Washout former leader Kezia Dugdale, who thought it acceptable to abandon her Scottish parliamentary duties to fill her pockets by appearing in a “celebrity” TV show in Australia, has combined with former co-ordinated resignation performer Ian Murray to try to bounce Scottish Labour into emulating the SNP line on staying in the European Union.
Their efforts to make this the conference headline event speaks volumes for a lack of concern for party unity and Labour’s electoral prospects.
Delegates had the final word in backing a “unity statement” that largely reflects the position adopted by Corbyn, which stresses that Labour must, as a party committed to democracy, respect the referendum decision.
Failure to do so would cast Labour in the public eye as showing a contempt for policy commitments and democratic considerations on a par with the Liberal Democrats, which would be electorally disastrous.
Those supporting the Dugdale-Murray line on EU membership dredged up the usual red herrings related to public ownership and Labour’s transformative programme.
Yes, public ownership is part of life in the EU — private or public ownership is not the key issue. What matters to the EU commission and the European Court of Justice is market supremacy, competition and compulsory tendering.
These criteria are fundamentally in conflict with the policies advocated at British level by Corbyn and John McDonnell and by Leonard for Scotland.
Yesterday’s people who display an arrogant disregard today for voters’ decisions they don’t like are largely those who hung private finance initiatives and public-private partnerships round Labour’s neck for over a dozen years, saddling the public sector with long-term debts and alienating Labour voters.
Leaders at British and Scottish level have listened to the electors and to party members and decided that things must change.
The resultant enthusiasm that has seen Labour membership rocket and posed a significant and believable alternative to the Tories at Westminster and the SNP at Holyrood must be given an opportunity to succeed.
Leonard has not simply taken Corbyn-McDonnell pledges off the peg but has developed his own priorities most applicable to Scotland.
If those who have previously failed so badly cannot embrace the forces of change fully, they should at least avoid the temptation to undermine their own party’s new leadership.
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