09 Mar 2015
March 9, 2015

A real Scottish Labour Party?


Yesterday’s Sunday Herald reported that the Camelon Labour Club in my constituency of Falkirk has applied to trademark: “The Scottish Labour Party”. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is still considering the application, which was submitted in December. It’s an imaginative move. Dennis Goldie and May McIntyre (my office manager and long-time colleague), highly-respected Labour figures of huge loyalty over many years, have perfectly decent intent. They can see there may come a time quite soon when Labour in Scotland will need to be a separate party altogether rather than simply a brand of The (UK) Labour party. If that does happen and if their application were successful, they’d gift the name to Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy.

I’ve had no role in Dennis and May’s move, of course. But as I see it there are two possible eventualities now for Labour in Scotland. First, if Jim Murphy hangs onto a couple of dozen MPs then he might decide that although he’s secured a fair rump in the circumstances, any future progress for Labour in future would require a proper party in Scotland. This would still argue the unionist case, but it wouldn’t be run from London.

Second, though, if the SNP secures over 40 seats and labour well under 20, then the unionist game is probably a bogey. The only way to get traction for a coherent Labour vision for Scotland, whatever that might be, may be to accept the inevitability of independence and actively campaign for it. In that circumstance, it’s conceivable that the ‘Labour’ brand could, in the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary Elections, win back a chunk of the vote lost to an SNP which includes people from the centre-right. With support from Scottish Labour, it’s likely there’d be an early referendum – the dam would have burst altogether. The trouble for Jim Murphy with such a radical option, of course, is that the present gravity of Scottish Labour lies way to the left of him. He may be killed off, followed quite possibly by the Labour brand as I doubt Labour can outflank the SNP on the left.

In this way, the general election could well represent a breaking point, where people of all political persuasions in Scotland accept the independence narrative. The SNP would continue to dominate, of course, but the others might preserve some semblance of multi-party state – to live to fight another independent day.

One thing is for sure – as Dennis and May, and plenty others, make clear – none of this is in the hands of London any longer. Indeed, as councillors and activists start to fight for their political lives, it might not even be in the hands of leaders of the unionist parties in Scotland.