Stop turning party into 'red-rosetted wing of Better Together re-enactment society', Labour activist says

Scottish Labour is held back by MSPs and MPs who “want to turn the party into a red-rosetted wing of Ruth Davidson’s Better Together re-enactment society,” argues Rory Scothorne

SCOTTISH LABOUR’S position on Scottish self-determination has fallen behind that of the UK party, figures from within the Scottish Labour grassroots have argued following John McDonnell’s admission that a Corbyn government would “consider” proposals for a second independence referendum.

Speaking on Sunday Politics Scotland, the shadow chancellor’s remarks re-emphasised the apparent divide on the issue between the UK Labour leadership and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, who has previously said “categorically” that the Labour manifesto in the lead-up to the next General Election will “state our opposition to the holding of a second independence referendum."

Leonard’s promise came shortly after Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson made a similar commitment, and was elicited by earlier comments from UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who stated during an interview at the Labour conference in September that he is not “ruling out” giving consent for a second Scottish independence referendum, should he become prime minister.

READ MORE: Analysis: On Scottish independence, Labour will find no solutions by going backwards

McDonnell reiterated Labour’s opposition to another Scottish plebiscite, describing it as a “complete distraction”, but said that the next manifesto “will be determined in the normal democratic process of the Labour Party.”

Pressed on the matter of a second referendum, McDonnell further stated: “Well, we will consider whatever proposals come from Scotland; of course, these are devolved issues that need to be discussed overall.”

Despite this apparent contradiction with the Scottish Labour leader, McDonnell added that Leonard had the UK leadership’s “100 per cent support and he is on the same agenda as us”.

However, the gulf between UK and Scottish Labour on independence extends beyond the statements of their leadership, argues the writer and Scottish Labour member Rory Scothorne.

READ MORE: Leonard's drive for Unionist credentials prompts criticism from key allies

Speaking to CommonSpace, Scothorne described McDonnell’s intervention as “yet another sign that the UK Labour Party is ahead of the Scottish party when it comes to supporting Scotland’s right to self-determination – but that’s not Richard Leonard’s fault.

“Leonard is burdened with a group of MSPs and some MPs whose internal power far outweighs their capabilities or support among the membership, and who seem to want to turn the party into a red-rosetted wing of Ruth Davidson’s Better Together re-enactment society.

Scothorne continued: “Rather than using the malign devices of the British state to keep independence off the table, Labour should go one better than Guy Fawkes and exorcise the spectral, unwritten constitution that keeps these islands in an endless limbo: a properly democratised British political system will be one worth staying in.

“Thus far, Labour members and voters have been promised economic transformation, but only a political revolution can make that transformation last.”

Similar criticisms were made by activist, former Scottish Young Labour spokesperson and Edinburgh University international students representative Emily Robinson, who told CommonSpace: “Richard Leonard’s anti-referendum position reveals Scottish Labour’s inability to genuinely engage the Scottish left with where it’s at.

“If nothing else, the opposition to a referendum is a severely anti-democratic approach to a constitutional problem that needs to be dealt with – on both sides – with more than just pithy rhetoric.

“In my previous life as Scottish Young Labour’s spokesperson, I wrote a statement condemning the Spanish Government for their anti-democratic response to the Catalonian referendum and I think the same logic applies here.”

However, Robinson also argued that UK Labour’s approach to Scottish affairs contained its own imperfections, saying: “UK Labour needs to have a more robust response to Scottish issues than ‘we’ll let Holyrood deal with it’. If Labour wants any chance of winning up here again, they need to treat Scottish politics with more seriousness than we’ve seen in the past decade or so.”

READ MORE: Analysis: Leonard, Corbyn and the two souls of Labour socialism

Commenting this week in the aftermath of McDonnell’s remarks, an SNP spokesperson told press than Leonard had again found himself “ignored by his bosses in Westminster”.

The spokesperson continued: “The reality is that it would be utterly undemocratic for any Westminster government to deny the Scottish Government its clear mandate, and to deny the Scottish Parliament from exercising its right.

“Richard Leonard’s streak of ineffectualness continues and John McDonnell was right to reject the indefensible position to deny the people of Scotland a choice on their constitutional future.”

Scottish Conservative constitution spokesperson Adam Tompkins MSP also commented that McDonnell’s statements prove that “a Labour government would lie down and allow Scotland to be ripped out of Britain.”

“That’s a shameful failing on Labour’s part and one which completely betrays the majority of voters in Scotland. This all goes to show, once again, that only the Scottish Conservatives can stand up to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.”

Picture courtesy of Kevin Walsh

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