Plan Ahead

It was 1988 I reckon when I headed into North Lanarkshire with a BBC film crew to speak to the new MP for Motherwell North, the ebullient John Reid. At that time he was a Labour likely lad – the working class Catholic from Bellshill who put himself through the Open University before taking a PhD at Stirling, transforming himself from son of a factory worker and a postman into a career-ready politician.


He enjoyed the craic over a fag – Thatcher, Celtic, David Murray – and had a lively drive and openness in contrast to the cautious and often gloomy luminaries like Dewar and Millan. The Tories had just secured a third successive win and a majority of 102, pouring contempt on top of despair for Labour who had a generation of MPs who’d only known Conservative government in their Commons career.

‘We’ll never win again without PR’, he told me (on camera), going on to suggest a formal tie-in with the Liberal-SDP Alliance – as they still were at the time. A progressive alliance pulling together the strands of left-of-centre thinking would be needed if the Tories were ever to be ousted. Good story, I thought.

Of course, the success of New Labour changed all that stuff about working with others and, as for PR, Labour dallied with it when Blair asked Roy Jenkins to report on it before promptly dropping the subject for good. Reid even campaigned against AV. This may be a good time to revive it.

I was reminded of John Reid – who has now pulled up his political roots by languishing in the Lords – when I read Alastair Campbell report the views of Charlie Kennedy. Campbell said Kennedy had texted him to say they should discuss forming a new progressive, centre-left unionist party in Scotland after the SNP won 56 seats.

‘He basically thought that that the Labour party and Lib Dems up there are knackered.’


This is an understandable response to crushing defeat but has in the past proved to be wrong although it did lead to the radical rethinking that Labour went through to become electable again. Like much in politics, it has superficial attraction – it is, in other words, fine in theory. But the biggest obstacle to coalition and alliance isn’t policy but personality – individual and collective. When Labour last considered working closely with a partner it was immediately after the 2010 election while the Lib Dems were pinballing between them and the Tories. This is how Polly Toynbee put it then: ‘Their attitude (Labour’s), say my informants, is far from welcoming. The suspicion is they would prefer to sit on the opposition bench and watch the Lib Dems be slaughtered by tying themselves to the Conservatives.

In this febrile moment everyone is jumpy as political life and death negotiations such as these throw up dark suspicions and intense anxiety on all sides. The Lib Dems may be badly misreading Labour’s true intent in which case Labour’s negotiating team had better hug them tight and reassure them. But if the Labour team really is trying to make a deal impossible, they are making a historic mistake. Worse, they are betraying the people they stand for – every pensioner and poor family who always stand better protected by a left of centre government – however difficult that may be to construct. Is Labour’s fatal fascination for a quiet life of internal debate (or strife) on the opposition benches getting the better of them?’

Then finally, she adds: ‘They should remember there is no guarantee they wouldn’t be out of power for a long time, but the call of the wild is never far from their tribal instincts.’

Labour had no heart for a coalition and I’m not sure the country did either but look how it’s turned out – not just for the Lib Dems but for Labour too – facing the prospect of mountainous electoral calculus in Scotland, struggling in ‘the North’ and failure in southern England. Would a Labour-Lib Dem Coalition have saved them? Quite possibly. If the Lib Dems has demanded PR and had Labour finally relented, they might both be in a healthy position today. Under PR there would have been no Tory majority and while the chance of a poisonous deal with UKIP might have put Cameron into Number 10, Labour could have produced a progressive coalition of its own with Lib Dems, SNP and Greens. And yet, what was the truth when something of the kind was offered by Sturgeon? She received flat No from a Labour Party that seems to believe it stands alone or it falls. This smacks of an attitudinal problem, a centralist arrogance that the setback of 2015 (not to mention 2011 in Scotland) should eradicate. If there is a possible progressive grouping to be constructed then it is surely the duty of all those who care for the people who will otherwise suffer to make it work.

The early signs, according to an SNP MP, are not good for Labour cooperation in the Commons. A new politics could start if Labour abandoned its isolationist approach and put people before party like a young John Reid and the late Charles Kennedy.

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35 thoughts on “Plan Ahead

  1. I think you weaken your case by using Kennedy and (a young) Reid as examples.
    Both have shown that they are/were not progressives and both are/were corruptible.
    Reid by going to The Lords; Kennedy by being essentially useless in his term as an MP (I cannot recall one thing he did in his career that can be classed as a benefit to Scotland) and, in addition Kennedy siding with Better Together.

    I just don’t believe they wanted to put people before party at any stage in their careers.
    And to emphasis again, just to make the point but in a slightly different way; both Kennedy’s and Reid’s careers and contributions have been completely vacuous.

  2. The phrase, ‘why flog a dead horse?’ comes to mind. The sounds it is making would suggest this horse still isn’t even aware, or wants to learn the reasons why, its on its very last legs.

    • I agree with Paul. Labour looks as if they are destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. It is clear to everyone but Labour that Scots want an independent Scottish Labour party which can develop its own policies and work in partnership with the English Labour party. Scots want progressive policies, not Tory light. Most English voters want right of centre policies and governments.

      So what do the Labour leadership in Scotland say ? We want to remain part of a UK Labour party. They are saying the voters are wrong. They will repeat the same mistakes in May 2016. That arrogance and stupidity will only add to the popularity of the SNP and take us closer to independence. I am pleased about that. Once Scotland becomes independent there will be a realignment of politics in Scotland. Only then will Labour have a chance to rebuild. However, by that time it may be too late. They are their own worst enemies.

    • dennis mclaughlin

      The Dead Horse, She Say SNP BAAAD!

  3. Don’t want to be pernickety, but the spelling “craic” is a very recent development indeed, and the word’s contemporary prevalence in Southern Ireland is possibly the result of Northern Ireland Catholics being displaced there at the beginning of the Troubles. It is in fact not an Irish word but a Scots and northern English one that came to Ulster with the Planters — the very same word used in the English expression “What’s the crack?” and the Scots verb “tae crack”.

  4. My personal feeling is that there is no hope at all for Labour. They still cannot accept what has happened or most importantly why. Arrogant to the core, party before people every time.

    As for Labour here in Scotland, well, going by the witterings from dippity dug, oh my my! I don’t think they ever will learn until they are wiped out completely. As for pochling about with their closed list for Holyrood next year, trying to get some of the former Westminster lot in, what are they like. It disnae dawn oan them that we turfed them oot doon by, why the hell dae thae think that we’ll let them in up here. Help ma boab, as they say.

  5. I remember my father way back in the early sixties despairing of Labour. As far as I can see nothing has changed. The problem is that too many Labour voters imagine they can change. After more than half a century, you would think it would have dawned on them that it is not going to happen.

  6. It became very clear to me over the last 3 years – indyref and GE debates – that for Labour party and activists “The Left” and “Labour” are one and the same. Further they seem adamant that to be against Labour is to be against the Left. This unwillingness to work with others that is *really* offputting. Why is it those voices within Labour are always drowned out?

  7. Just watching the Scottish Bill being debated in House of Commons. Mundell’s comments are making my blood boil, especially his sarcasm when it comes to the SNP contributions. Governor General Mundell, keep it coming as I can see another Referendum on the horizon soon. Tommy Shepherd is doing very well just now.

  8. It’s always been apparent that the Scottish Labour leadership are unionist. The fact that they are so hard-line unionist came as a bit of a surprise, however, in the run-up to the Scottish referendum in 2014. They immediately nailed their colours to the tory-funded Better Together mast, and the people saw their true colours and did not like what they saw. Such was the strength of unionism in Labour that the leaders ignored the obvious warning signs and alienated more than one third of their traditional support base in Scotland. Last month, their MPs were all but annihilated in Scotland, but amazingly it seems they still refuse to take the blunt message that the people gave them: break free from London Labour and support FFA (or else its more of the same).

    Many people would like to see Scottish Labour reform and sort itself out before it’s too late. Unfortunately, it seems that this once-great party will have to be completely incinerated before it can eventually arise, like a phoenix, as a completely independent Labour party in Scotland. The great irony is that this love of the union is what has now put the union closer to breaking up than ever (including during 2014).

    • Sadly it seems that UK labour has concluded that it wasn’t right wing enough and intends to fight on tory ground for votes. Labour in Scotland has decided that it doesn’t need to change at all and now plans to run and hide in its council wards. So the call of the Wild as were has been too strong to ignore.

      The big plan will be a “radical” solution of surrendering power from Holyrood to council control. Labour has always felt safer there. But given the vote on May 7th, there is no safe place for Labour to hide.

      They just won’t listen. labours tin ear is going to be the death of this party.

  9. Labour in Scotland puts hate before hope. Labour in England is just clueless about Scotland.

  10. The Labour Party is redundant in our modern Scotland. Post independence a DIFFERENT entity may be able to gain traction but I personally couldn’t care less about them they have truly reaped what they have sewn. 2007 should’ve been a wake up call! 2011 x2 ! 2015!!?? But what do we get from them…? Pathetic!

  11. Steve Asaneilean

    It wasn’t always so and it seems (Not) Labour have forgotten their roots and traditions. Both Keir Hardie and Ramsey Macdonald supported home rule quite openly – by which they meant full Scottish control over everything bar defence and foreign affairs.

    I have no doubt that the former at least would have been on the side of a Yes vote last autumn.

    Both men saw home rule as the best way of protecting the working class in Scotland from Westminster parliaments dominated by the Oxbridge set who had little knowledge, understanding or care for how ordinary people in Scotland lived.

    They were so right and it’s astonishing to see how little has changed in 130 years.

    (Not) Labour in Scotland needs to become an Independent Scottish Labour Party once again and rekindle and embrace that party’s century old tradition of supporting home rule with full fiscal responsibility. I simply do not understand why they won’t. They have betrayed the desires and aspirations of the vast majority of Scots who want to better their lot in life and realise no-one in Westminster is going to do that for them – so they need the tools to do it themselves.

  12. Alasdair Macdonald.

    I, too, recall meeting the newly elected John Reid in around 1988, and, as Mr Bateman relates, he was refreshingly at ease with his working class roots and spoke fondly of people like Michael McGahey and Dick Stewart. He was forceful in advocating radical proposals. However, the rest is a matter of history. There is a well trodden trajectory of people who started well to the left, indeed, in the communist party moving right across the spectrum. Mrs Thatcher had several ex- communists in her think tanks. Mr Reid was the Go-to minister whenever Tony Blair had a problem. He was at the heart of new Labour and was one of those who transformed Labour into simply being a franchisee for Thatcherism. Apart from Jeremy Corbyn, all of the candidates for leadership are simply ‘No policy Tory clones’.
    However the simplistic cliche of ‘England – right wing, Scotland – left’ does a gross injustice to huge numbers of decent people living in England. There is no right wing majority in England, there is a desire for humane, redistributive, communitarian policies, but they have few options in large parts of England. Labour was very successful in London in the recent election. Substantial gains were made. The same thing happened in the recent council elections there. There is genuinely radical thinking going on in the place which has the greatest inequality anywhere in Britain.
    The problem in Scotland is that the Labour Party purged itself of the independent thinkers in favour of the loyalist and the bumpy. Hordes of thoughtful people left the party because of Iraq, the increasingly rightward march of new Labour and the catastrophic Brown premiership. As Gerry has an showed local party branches were fiefdoms of local panjandrums, who had no great vision, being simply interested in power and sordid gain. The intelligent, like Reid, Brown, Alexander, Wilson, etc. saw their careers in Westminster and made sure Holyrood was weak. They have done well materially and have abandoned any concern for the poor and downtrodden. So, Labour in Scotland is left with the numpties who are incapable of insightful thought. They are still seeking to maintain their little empires by promoting Kezia Dugdale. They should go for Ruth Davidson, because she can articulate the policies with sincerity, because she actually – as a Tory – believes them!

  13. dennis mclaughlin

    ScotLab are a disgrace to their former voters and an embarrassment to our nation.

  14. Labour for Independence is the only real Labour Party nowadays. The rest are right wing who-knows-what. When they realise that fact they’ll make headway.

  15. I have to say I’m getting fairly tired of all these helpful articles attempting to explain to the Labour party what it needs to do to revive and increase its vote. Why? Basically, hell mend them.

  16. Steve Asaneilean

    Why? Because Morag I happen to believe democracy needs effective opposition. .

    DOI – I am not and never have been a member of any established political party and I haven’t voted Labour since 1997.



    • Democracy needs good goverment for all the people. Engagement in the political process is what guarantees that good government, politicians are public servants and should be accountable only to the electorate and not to party machines.

  17. Why does that have to be the present Labour party, or its direct successor?

    Personally, I won’t mourn the demise of any union-supporting party, and I can live with weak opposition this side of independence. Working for the revival of Labour merely strengthens unionism.

    • Hi Morag – it doesn’t have to be “the present Labour party” (and it certainly shouldn’t be that party in its current form). I will shed no tears if (Not) Labour in Scotland dies off.

      I would be quite happy for effective opposition from Greens or anyone else

  18. A pity that a young John Reid putting people before politics turned into an old John Reid – heid up his arse like the rest of Labour’s and Libdems’ Unionist gobshites!

  19. The post mortum on dead Slab is beginning to piss me off.

    I am with you Morag.

    Anyone , stop a guy or lass on the streets and ask why Slab are unelectable. The simple answer is they are not trusted. This party has kept us firmly in place and docile while our assets are stripped to pay for the SE and wars. Never gain will they get my vote.

    Let them die. No one i speak to would vote for them again, no matter what they stood for. The only folk who would are die hard unionists. They see Scotland as a region, nothing more.

    As for having oppostion for the SNP. Get a bloody grip folks Every day the “opposition” abuse and vilfie our representation . The whole of the UK state including media are the opposition.

    Once we’re free from these shackles we can form our own parties. I’d be shocked if any of the usual suspects in Lab/Con/Libs got re-elected. They have been judged by their voters and failed them .

    Die for goodness sake and give us peace.

    Scotland needs good politicians and leaders. Not Labour .

    Time you caught up Derek. Most of us DON’T want another version of these wasters. Let them wallow in their own pish.

    rant over 🙁

  20. When one hears Kezia Dugdale say they don’t want an independent Labour Party in Scotland, I wonder where the discussions are taking place for these decisions.
    Are they second rank managers in the Westminster ranks. Is it happening in Scotland among the MSPs.
    Are they simply not bright enough, courageous enough to make a case, take the chance?

    Seeing Nicola Sturgeon on Bloomberg and Stewart in America, hearing her speeches in Brussels and London, the gulf wide and deep, between her and the Labour politicians is startling. Impossible to imagine Dugdale or Murphy there.

  21. “A new politics could start if Labour abandoned its isolationist approach and put people before party like a young John Reid and the late Charles Kennedy.”

    Holding breath not recommended.

  22. The Labour Party of 1945 are not the Labour Party of 2015. And they don’t appear to know who they are or what they are for now – My Party, right or wrong? If that’s what it has come to…

  23. I have to admit as a trade union member and a former shop steward I am a tiny bit sad at the way a party supposed to stand for the working man and solidarity has been conducting itself over the last 30 or so years but that’s where it ends. I have never voted Labour and never will even if they are independent from London. I was intrigued by Labour for indepence during Indy ref but I doubt very much that’s what Labour would actually look like once we finally gain our indepence. SNP are not perfect I do critise some policies but they will have my vote because they are the only ones who can seriously challenge the unionists and unusually in politics I have to say I am pretty satisfied with their time in government. As for this one party state nonsense that implies a totalitarian regime. I have to admit in an independent Scotland I’d probably give the SNP my vote at first especially if Nicola is still leader but I’d be more inclined to vote SSP or Greens and I don’t think I am alone there so under PR that would mean coalitions and better political representaion a million miles from a one party state. Back on point I agree Labour deserves to die the slow death and I agree that their demise will help our cause.

  24. Said it before, I’ll say it again. Labour doesn’t play well with others.

    To Labour everyone is opposition, not a partner or peer attempting to pull a country or representation in a positive direction. These peers aren’t representatives of a differing, yet fellow civic viewpoint who could be called upon for fresh perspective, not even distantly similar travellers on the road to social justice who could be called upon for support if nothing else on the big issues. No, everyone is an opponent, an enemy, a competitor. They are Maggie’s true inheritors, the party she created and her other twisted creation, Blair its true face and first herald.

    Here’s the thing about our system of government, its basically arse for elbow. Its not about governing in the name of your population. Its not about representation of all voices, all views, finding a common ground which all agree upon, can live with and move forward. Its not about care for the electorate or consensus and it sure as hell isn’t about being better together. Its the very best possible of example of power for powers sake. Immense power wielded with the purpose of keeping the powerful exactly where they are and with a secondary directive of gathering yet more power and wealth. To this end we have an establishment system custom engineered, mired in entrenched traditional, overly elaborate archaic procedure and forms dedicated to servicing this end product. Its not about governing on behalf of the people, its about managing and manipulating the people for your own damn benefit.

    The short answer is Labour conformed to the system.

    They re-wrote their own DNA in order to conform. They abandoned ideology, principle, ethics, their own people, everything in favour of ‘playing the game’. They reckoned that in order to win it, you have to become part of it and in order to do that you have to become acceptable to the system and its self perpetuating rules. You don’t beat the house, the house beats you and in Labour’s case the house won hands down. It created an election winning machine which would use and abuse its own electorate. A machine that would lie, betray, steal, divide and conquer on a level even the most rapacious true blue tory would envy. There is no difference between them now. If you buy into the system of that big hoose on the Thames, all colours become blue eventually.

    • Scottish Labour came into being and got its first leader in 2011 (J Lamont). It’s not grown up yet, but it must,or be outgrown out by the Greens

    • Steve Asaneilean

      And that’s the fundamental problem. When (Not) Labour finally had the chance in 1997 to do the most for the most they blew it, preferring to sook up to the chancer bankers and businessmen.

      They did nothing about inequality. They did nothing to create a fair and equal society. They did nothing lasting to lift the poor out of poverty.

      Yet they could have done all that – they had the parliament majority and the overwhelming good will of the people. But they chose not to.

      And now those very same folk are millionaires living a life of luxury, charging ten grand a go for after dinner speeches, flying first class, staying in £300 a night hotels, being paid six figure salaries for non-executive directorships or consultancy work, and so on.

      But they still feel they have the moral authority to tell us how to live our lives. They are a bloody joke that isn’t funny.

      Unless and until (Not) Labour confesses these sins, holds the perpetrators up for judgement and offers a profound apology to the poor and the dispossessed, they should never be forgotten or forgiven for what they did amd how they sold out and sold the rest of us down the river.

  25. Can I pick up on the report in Derek’s piece above, of musings by CK to AC, he suggested a center left UNIONIST coalition! I understand that as, club together, lie and dupe the people do what ever it takes but keep them in the union! This is not party politics this is WM establishment support. No unionist has yet to understand that, the people of Scotland, through the referendum have become politicised to such an extent that everything is remembered and noted and we do not have the memory of a goldfish or the attitude of sheep anymore, if we are told, promised or vowed something we expect our representatives to deliver. None of the unionist parties can understand that and none of the unionist parties can bring themselves to accept it.

  26. @macart£763: Here’s the thing about our system of government, ……..

    A powerful, powerful paragraph!

    I used to say ‘Party Government’ is all about transferring wealth from the less-wealthy to the more-wealthy. Possibly that was too simplistic.

    The real benefit to be gained by an independent Scotland is government which sees and works for the greatest good for the greatest number.

  27. Not able to comment on post re trouble at the BBC. Why?

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