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The future for Scottish Labour

Tom Griffin
5 July 2008

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): The Scottish Labour Party has a lot to think about after the past traumatic few weeks. Once it has sorted out a candidate for the Glasgow East by-election, there is the small matter of a new leader in the Scottish Parliament.

In Friday's Scotsman, Gerry Hassan argued that the party needs to make the most of the opportunity for a cathartic debate after a decade in which its Scottish leaders have been chosen without a proper contest.

The second area the party has to come to terms with is the national dimension. This is actually more complex and nuanced than commonly understood. The response of the Scottish ‘commentariat’ to Alexander’s resignation has been to say she was right on substance, wrong on style and presentation. This argument says Wendy supported more power to the Parliament, autonomy for the party and independence referendum and that this must be the future direction of the party.

However, the national question has to be seen in the wider picture of economic and social policy and values and in this Alexander’s prognosis was part of the problem, not the solution: an inflexible, dogmatic marketeering, globalising view of the world which seemed to see people as having a mere walk-on part in their own lives!

Hassan argues that the Scottish party must come to terms with its role in New Labour's legacy and with the rise of the SNP.

It has to rid itself of the anger and denial about last year’s defeat and the SNP being in office. More than that it has to abandon its long-term deep antagonism to the Nats which somehow sees them as ‘illegitimate’ and ‘usurpers’. The SNP are here to stay as a permanent fixture on the Scottish scene and Labour has no option but to adapt to it.

The road back for Scottish Labour is going to be a long, difficult one. The party needs an entirely new approach and new kind of politics. It needs to break with the past, with its past, and it needs to say sorry to large swathes of Scotland for the way it has governed, mistreated and taken for granted people. It has to apologise for its historic attitude of believing it knew best what was in the best interests of people.

The early portents suggest there is a good chance of a real contest for the Scottish Labour leadership this time around. It may throw up some uncomfortable but important questions, not least for a a Westminster party that is still firmly under New Labour leadership.

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