Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Not all history is economic history

This blogging is hard going, particularly if you’ve got a proper job. Nonetheless, having attracted one follower I don’t want him to lose interest, so here is my thought for today.
The roots of the 2011 election debacle can be traced from the 31st May 1994.
On that evening Tony Blair and Gordon Brown met in the Granita Restaurant to agree on the future leadership of the Labour Party.
Now, I don’t like Tony Blair. Never did. The last UK Party Conference I attended coincided with his first as leader.  As an amateur student of Italian History, I had heard all this about the third way before and it didn’t bode well, although even I couldn’t forsee that it would also end with him threatening people with somebody else’s army.
More to the point, the Scottish Party (of 1994 at least) didn’t like Blair. They did however appreciate the self sacrifice “our” Gordon had made in Blair’s favour in what he (if by no means all of them) perceived to be the UK Party’s strategic interest.  So long as Gordon backed Blair, so would they, but equally they would sign up to do nothing to prevent Gordon, one day, coming into his rightful inheritance.
The problem is that it was difficult to reconcile that inheritance with the requirements of Devolution. SLA had always argued that a devolved Parliament had always required a devolved Party. Between 1987 and 94, we were absolutely at the forefront of the development of Party policy on the national question. Even when we lost, such as advocating non-payment of the poll tax, we nonetheless set the terms of the debate. And we had more successes than failures: taking the Party into the Convention; reconciling it to the development of the eventual revised Convention scheme, crucially on the issue of the electoral system; in 1994, finally giving the Party the courage to adopt the title Scottish Labour Party. But in 1994, all this stopped short of the final achievement of an actually autonomous Party in Scotland.
 Why? At the time it was attributed to the Party’s dedication to finally returning to power but, believe me, no Actioner was any less committed in ’92, under a leader with whom we felt much more at ease in relation to his UK agenda. No, the difference was that, after ‘94, the zeitgeist was that nothing the Scottish Party might do could involve creating any possible obstacle to Gordon’s ultimate elevation. And there was no bigger potential obstacle to that than creating the impression that the Party in Scotland (unofficial leader G. Brown) was in some way semi-detached from the Party at Westminster.
So, there never was a Scottish Labour Party, other than in name. And even then that name was for exclusively Scottish use.
Now, after the benign interlude when this strategic problem was effectively reconciled in the one person of Donald Dewar, this was always one day an issue that would require to be confronted.
When it finally was, it led to one of the most disreputable episodes in our Party’s history: the Alexander leadership, 14th September 2007- 28th June 2008.
That will be my next topic.

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