Will Labour’s new leader in Scotland stand up to Salmond?

Will Labour’s new leader in Scotland stand up to Salmond?

Is the job going to the man Ed couldn’t remember?

This weekend we find out who will be Labour’s next leader in Scotland. From early on in this protracted contest I’ve backed Ken Macintosh at a range of prices averaging 5/1. MacIntosh is the best communicator of all 3 candidates and only he has the personality to present an attractive case. I had hoped that he would be a runaway leader however his chief rival Lamont has performed well with constituency party activists and her trade union support may prove decisive. Though that is by no means a guide for future electoral success. The unions arguably play a much more significant role North of the Border and the endorsements of Unison and Unite could prove crucial. It’s worth noting that all candidates explicitly backed the November 30th strikes, something Shadow Cabinet ministers at Westminster pointedly avoided.

Deputy Leader Lamont has put in a strong showing during the last two months and some well-placed sources are now predicting her to sneak it. I have balanced my betting accordingly though there is hope from the Macintosh camp that additional parliamentarians have switched to the Eastwood MSP.

Tom Harris was the only MP to take advantage of the new rules enter the race, however he has already ruled out his chances of a shock victory saying, “Realistically speaking I am not sure that the Scottish Labour party is prepared to take as radical a step as having an MP as its leader yet. My message has been that Labour is in really deep trouble and that we need to think outside the box. There is no indication that the party is prepared to do that yet and I don’t know why.”

There is some truth in Harris’ remarks. It has been a conventional ‘steady as you go’ race with little of the urgency and radical thinking required. In contrast the to the Scottish Conservative race, this leadership election has been frankly underwhelming. A Scottish Investment Bank is the most useful idea to emerge from Macinstosh but along this is by no means sufficient to meet the steep hill to climb. Lamont has failed to offer little more than platitudes that every Scottish Labour insider has served up for years and it is currently hard to see how the Deputy Leader will offer any threat whatsoever to the SNP.

The most telling contribution has come from another Westminster politician. Douglas Alexander did not mince his words when reminding Scottish Labour activists that the party only received 1 in 8 votes and had to show humility. Yet even that is incapable of accepting that the New Labour project his embodied was never calibrated for the country. Middle England yes, middle Scotland? No.

The fact that the most significant speeches have come from Alexander and Margaret Curran – both now Westminster Scots – is a reminder that the big hitters have in recent years refused to commit to Holyrood.

It is hard to conclude that the Scottish Parliament is still not seen as an attractive calling for Labour politicians. What a message to the voters this is. Vote Labour for our B Team! Ed Miliband’s failure to recall frontrunner Ken Macintosh’s name in a BBC Scotland interview spoke volumes. It was truly gruesome to watch.

David Cameron mocked Ed Miliband at PMQs this week over his remarks a year ago predicting Scotland will be “the start of Labour’s fightback”. The party is in a far worse situation and is still scratching around for ideas and answers to take on Alex Salmond’s tartan army.

The best advice for Scotish Labour to take has come from thinker and commentator Gerry Hassan. ‘Learn to accept the Nationalists as a mainstream opposition. They are not an illegal guerrilla army who have come down from the mountains and usurped your divine right to rule. Stop party colleagues… who act like this is true. And challenge the wider Labour Westminster ‘entitlement culture’ which allows Scots Labour MPs to view the Scottish Parliament as some errand child challenging the natural order.’ Gerry’s article from October is still worth a read in full two months on.

There appears to be growing numbers of Conservative supporters who appear quite relaxed about Scottish independence. For those of us who value the union, an emboldened Scottish Labour party is important in taking on the SNP. However Labour in Scotland has still to learn the lessons of its decline in recent years. Often leadership elections are not the best forum for philosophical debate. There will be no time to waste for the new leader but hand on heart, right now, I’m not feeling that optimistic.

HenryG Manson @henrygmanson

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