Thursday 16 August 2007

Left Must Challenge for the Leadership of Scottish Labour Party

On Sunday the Campaign for Socialism, the organised Labour and Trade Union Left in Scotland, meets to discuss whether there should be a Left candidate in the leadership election in Scotland now that Jack McConnell has announced he is off to a foreign posting in sunnier climes. The media have already taken it for granted that the election of Gordon Brown's candidate, Wendy Alexander, will be a virtual Brown-like coronation. In fact Alexander is using the same "clunking fist" strategy as Brown did himself by trying to sweep up as many nominations as soon as possible to prevent any opportunity for another candidate to secure sufficient nominations to stand.

It is clearly for the Scottish Left to decide whether to field a candidate and having failed to secure sufficient nominations to even get onto the Labour Party ballot paper against Brown I render advice with some trepidation. Nevertheless I urge the Left in Scotland to do all it can to secure an election and to promote a Left candidate.

The reasons are pretty straightforward. A Left leadership challenge would not only be in the interests of democracy within the Labour Party by giving rank and file members a say over the party's future it would also enable the Left to articulate an alternative political analysis and policy agenda to the programme developed by Alexander and New Labour in Scotland, which has so recently lost Labour control of the Scottish Executive.

The potential for success for the Left in Scotland is considerably greater than within the Labour Party in England. The argument that Gordon Brown controls Scotland and the Scottish Labour Party like some fiefdom no longer carries the same weight given the poor results of Scottish UK Parliamentary byelections whose campaigns he controlled and the party's performance in the Scottish Parliamentary elections which his people also ran.

There is also a real danger for the Labour party in Scotland if it is seen by the electorate that Brown is installing in effect a puppet regime in place, led by a puppet leader readily controlled from Number 10. You can see now the way Alex Salmond would ruthlessly exploit the installation of Brown's candidate, Wendy Alexnader, in position, especially without a deocratic election within the party.

In a Scottish leadership election the Left would have the added advantages that the trade unions are significantly more independent than in England, exemplified by the formal support from UNISON in Scotland for my own candidature; something that was rendered impossible in England by the UNISON leadership's close relationship to Brown.

The Labour Left centred around the Campaign for Socialism is well organised and has been successful in stimulating a broad based discussion around what socialism means in the modern Scottish setting. Members of CfS played a key role in the publication of "The Red Paper on Scotland" which is a quality piece of work setting out an interesting and hard nosed assessment of progress since the original Red Paper 30 years on, edited then by of all people a self proclaimed radical socialist called Gordon Brown.

The general political climate in Scotland is also sinficantly more radical and progressive than in England. The wider political and cultural debate in even the mainsteam media has a sharper radical edge than anything identifiable in the English media. Access to the broader media for the Left is also much easier which would enable a Left candidate much more effectively to articulate a Left analysis and policy agenda.

For all these reasons and many more I urge the Labour Left in Scotland to field a candidate in the forthcoming leadership election.

Naturally it will be for the Scottish comrades to decide who that candidate should be but this election will have a much wider significance for all the left in the UK and in the Labour Party overall. So very humbly I offer my own thoughts.

I can think of no better socialist, no better articulator of the socialist cause and nobody more principled and selflessly committed to our movement than Elaine Smith MSP. Elaine is one of those people who never thrust themselves forward for position and she will not thank me for suggesting her name but in some ways that is a real strength. We need candidates who can argue and campaign effectively and professionally for our cause and who do so out of sheer dedication with no thought for personal advantage. Elaine is that sort of refreshing, principled socialist.