Labour in Scotland was plunged into turmoil over the weekend as the party which suffered a humiliating defeat in the election by the SNP is mired in speculation over who will succeed Iain Gray.
The party faces a crisis as some of the top names who would have been expected to be favourites for the top job lost their seats and are out of parliament. Senior figures such as Tom McCabe, Frank McAveety and Andy Kerr were kicked out of Holyrood and the favourite now seems to be Jackie Baillie. (pictured right)
Aside from Ms Baillie, names tipped to succeed Mr Gray include Johaan Lamont and former health minister Malcolm Chisholm. The SNP may come to regret not taking Chisholm’s Edinburgh North and Leith seat as he is perhaps the one senior figure who, seen as considered and principled, would carry the grassroots whilst being shrewd enough to embark and act on the thorough inquest that his party now badly requires.
Whoever takes over at the helm will have to face the big beast of Scottish politics Alex Salmond and that job, given the scale of Labour’s defeat, will be seen as a poisoned chalice. Observers note that overcoming such a rout would be an outside bet for an experienced opposition with a distinctive agenda, a high profile leader and an effective full term of a parliament. With Labour in complete disarray it seems highly unlikely that the party will be in power again in the next decade.
If the party is honest with itself it will identify its affinity with Westminster as core to the problem. Holyrood leaders, since the death of Donald Dewar, have been kept on a short leash by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. This has not helped the party in Scotland. The Scottish electorate has shown that the cracks caused between loyalty to London and loyalty to Scotland cannot be papered over. There will be wise calls for Labour in Scotland to become a Scottish-only party with no formal links to the party in England. For Labour to truly examine what kind of party it wants to be in Scotland throughout the twenty-first century it must now consider adopting Scottish independence as a key policy.
Labour’s London Scots often prefer the prestige of Westminster to Holyrood and have sought to control Labour in Scotland from afar. People like Gordon Brown and John McTernan are the true architects of Labour’s meltdown in Scotland. Despite this the spin continues with McTernan on Newsnight Scotland effectively arguing that a full term of negativity towards the SNP is needed. This arrogant line is perhaps an indication that lessons will not be learned in London and so London is the problem.
Without a thorough examination of the direction of the Scottish party it will be in danger of losing more seats in Scotland given that there are no safe Labour seats anymore. Some pro-Labour pundits in the media are suggesting that the electorate is becoming more volatile and votes could easily swing back to Labour. Let’s have a reality check here; Labour got mauled last Thursday but things could easily get worse. In most safe Westminster seats in Scotland there is now a SNP MSP breathing down their necks and therefore a political rival bent on spreading influence around MP’s constituencies.
Labour in Scotland have become an irrelevance offering nothing different in terms of policy or even in terms of competence as an opposition. With less talent, a smaller contingent of MSPs and the SNP offering a positive and ambitious agenda, Labour may continue to decline but could bounce back if they think the unthinkable, declare UDI from the English party and stand on an indepenence ticket. That is their one and only get out of jail free card as a party.