Henry G Manson on Labour’s challenge in Scotland
The bookmakers were quick to develop a market for the successor to Labourâ€™s Iain Gray after he announced his resignation in May. Months on, Gray is still in place, there is no timetable for the contest and currently no eligible candidates declared.
Earlier this summer I tipped Ken McIntosh and went reasonably big on him on the grounds he was the party’s best remaining communication. It now seems in thereâ€™s a chance that both he / and fellow market leader Jackie Ballie could both rule themselves out.
This week we have seen right-winger and former-minister Tom Harris MP put himself forward. for the position. Harris is currently ineligible to stand but could pending the partyâ€™s review of the rules. Fair play to him. His strength at the moment is that he is the only one to show any real intent and desire to win â€“ though even he admits he is his own 3rd choice. Will he be allowed a coronation even if the rules permitted? No chance. The unions would want to have their say though any preference for an agreed candidate is far from clear.
In the Scotsman John McTernanm sums up the problem â€“ no-one appears to have a clue how to beat the SNPâ€™s biggest asset:
â€œIf you want to win, you need first to confront why you lost – and then be willing to do whatever is necessary to get back into the game. So, let’s name Scottish Labour’s problem – it’s Alex Salmond.â€
I think the problem goes even deeper. Scotlandâ€™s machine politics was fine when the party was dominant in councils and in constituencies. With PR in local government and a devolved parliament it has meant exposed the Labour Party in Scotland to new challenges to surmount and it has struggled to adapt. Look at the products of this political system – Neither Iain Gray or Wendy Alexander can be described as â€˜charismaticâ€™. Yet they appear favourable in hindsight when compared to most of those left.
Johann Lamont, the current Deputy Leader is a typical insider and continuity figure but its precisely the qualities that could help her get a leadership campaign off the ground that reduce her chances of becoming First Minister. The only candidate who I thought could have troubled Salmond was lively centre-left winger Cathy Jamieson who lost the election last time and is now an MP.
The harsh lesson for Scottish Labour is there is no golden rule that says given enough time any political party has a right to recover. Just look at the Conservative Party who have failed to identify a leader to win their first outright election majority since 1992.
In fact the more you lose the narrower the pool of talent to draw from, the more dispirited your members, donors and supporters become. Labour’s MSPs seem to recognise there is no winner within their ranks. The party North of the Border is listless and leaderless. It needs a radical solution. The rules can be changed quickly, but the culture change required will need to be deeper and longer lasting. That is why the best thing Ed Miliband could do right now is bold but actually a low-risk move. Back primaries in Scotland and force future MSPs to possess an appeal that goes beyond the narrow channels of Scottish Labour. For political punters however, this is now a market to avoid.
HenryG Manson @henrygmanson