Falkirk and I often get the blame for the Brexit, Corbyn and the Tories ascendancy. It’s an outrageous slur, obviously……
Yet today, my old stomping ground of Falkirk is indeed pivotal and provides the perfect illustration of the choice before Labour at this historical time.
Over the last few elections, Labour and the SNP have tussled for overall control, the winning side usually needing the support of independents and even at times the two long-serving Tories there. Today, the voters have returned one fewer SNP councillor than last time. Normally, the SNP holding 12 seats would would mean Labour had got more seats and would form the administration. This time, however, Labour has only got 9 seats and the Tories have had an incredible surge to 7 (in spite of a small reduction in the total number of council seats available).
There’s really only one way to see this. Middle-class unionists, and maybe some less well-of ‘loyalists’, have moved en masse from Labour to the Tories. Labour has lost lots of votes because its ultra-unionist stance was trumped by the simple fact that the Tories are in a position to do something about it all; and because many of the same folk, a lot of them part of the wide middle-class in the area, liked New Labour and will never vote for Corbynite policies of the left.
Some Labour councillors might be tempted to form an administration with the Tories. But if the Scottish Labour Party lets them, they’ll destroy the party.
The only way for Labour in Falkirk to go now is to lead Labour in Scotland. That is, to support an SNP administration. If I were the leader, I’d go the whole hog and be the junior partners in the administration, but perhaps they’ll choose a kind of ‘confidence and supply’ option instead, where they support the SNP against the Tories key ‘confidence’ votes.
Labour’s plan for the general election has of course been destroyed today. It’s just seen that its attempt to be ultra-unionist has alienated folk who are pro-independence while also losing middle-class (and some less well-off ‘loyalists’) to the ‘real’ unionist party – The Tories. That’s what happens when you let the Daily Mail dictate your direction of travel.
The Labour leadership in Scotland, which hasn’t won an election since 2003, is deeply anti-corbynite. They’re hoping that independence and the Corbynites both somehow go away so they can start to move to the centre again and try to tempt some of those ‘Labour to Tory’ folk back. It’s not much of a game plan – no surprise there – but in any case the change we’ve seen is generational.
The Scottish Tories are the opposition now and, as long as Scotland’s in the UK, they wield real power by being Therea May’s proxies. Voters see Scotish Labour as losers and in no position to help them. And by the way, while Corbyn might go away, the Labour left is much better organised than the scattered centrists now – that’s why so many decent folk are stepping down as MPs – so when he goes he’ll be replaced by one of his crew.
All of this points to only one future for the Scottish Labour Party. Rather than be the Tories’ little helpers, Labour must choose independence and what lies beyond. For now, that means supporting the creation of an SNP administration in Falkirk. Beyond that, it means taking the sensible further-left position where the SNP on the centre-ground (ironically, the New Labour ground) will be a bit vulnerable in future. This will get the votes of some present independence-supporters who want Labour as a left-wing junior partner to a centrist SNP in an independent Scotland in order to keep the latter ‘honest’.
To tell you the truth, I think the present Scottish Labour leadership will try to make no decisions at all – essentially emulate the Lib Dems and hope something happens. They won’t be there for long, though, because in the end leaders have to lead. And they won’t.
So, to say it again, for Scottish Labour it’s either honest independence with left-wing aspirations and maybe a junior place in a future independent government; or be the Tories’ little helpers and help them usher in a generation-full of right-wing policies. And die, obviously.