In this country, we have come to expect our politicians to resign in an honourable fashion following a major political defeat. Subsequently, it came at very little shock value when Alex Salmond announced his intentions to resign as SNP leader and First Minister, despite the fact that many were truly sad to see him go.
So it took the Scottish people a little off-guard when Johann Lamont made her surprising announcement yesterday that she was standing down as Scottish Labour leader with immediate effect. Despite the fact that she has been celebrated by the No campaign as one of the saviours of the United Kingdom she has grown fed up of Westminster treating Scottish Labour “like a branch office”.
In an interview with the Daily Record she called a number of Labour’s Westminster MPs “dinosaurs” who were failing to recognise that “Scotland has changed forever” in the wake of the referendum. She seemed concerned with the fact that most current Labour MPs were putting their own interests ahead of those of Scotland and went on to mention that whilst Scotland had voted to remain in partnership with the UK, Scotland is “distinct” and had to be treated as such.
It’s unlikely that many people in Scotland will be too sad to see her go; her blatant cooperation with the Tories, her applauding of Asda for the threat of higher food prices in an Independent Scotland, her alienating of roughly a third of her membership over support for a No vote, and, of course, her remark that Scots are “not genetically programmed … to make political decisions” will likely lead to a slightly tarnished political reputation. However her passing does mark something rather more worrying. Scottish Labour appears to be on the verge of total collapse.
But of course the infighting in Labour isn’t anything new, with former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish pointing out that the “crisis in Labour didn’t happen yesterday.” We have known for a while that the Labour Party were falling to pieces – the Scottish Labour Party perhaps more so – as Westminster and Holyrood have drifted further and further apart with Westminster moving further and further to the right and Scottish Labour trying to hold its ground for fear of obliteration at the hands of the SNP.
There have been many Labour party members in Scotland who have felt increasingly disillusioned with the Westminster party, a difference which was starkly marked by the appearance of Labour for Independence during the run-up to September’s referendum. It was estimated that roughly a third of Scottish Labour Party members were in favour of independence, however their voices were silenced as nothing more than a few dissenters trying to cause trouble.
Labour’s failure to mobilise on new powers for Scotland in the aftermath of the referendum is now pushing the tension between the Westminster and Holyrood groups to its limit, with much of the Scottish Labour Party wanting greater autonomy over policy making decisions as well as being in favour of increased powers for the Scottish Parliament. Scottish people are increasingly becoming more wary of the three London based parties and their “branches” north of the border with a real feeling that the simply don’t represent their views any more. Unless Scottish Labour were to see more autonomy from their London masters it looks like they’re on course for disaster.
Current polling suggests that the SNP are likely to make vast gains into Labour strongholds in 2015 and 2016 as more and more people turn to the SNP as the social democratic party that Labour were supposed to be.
Lord McConnell echoed the views of both Ms. Lamont and of Mr. McLeish saying that; “She [Ms Lamont] clearly blames today publicly Ed Miliband and those around him and that’s a very serious accusation that requires answers, and it requires answers not just from him but from those closest to him.”
Since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999 (after nearly 300 years) the Scottish Labour Party have had seven leaders including Ms. Lamont. Johann Lamont was a fairly low key member of the party who gained leadership of the party after their heavy defeat to the SNP in the 2011 Scottish General Election. Since then she has become a fairly high profile player in the Labour party, mostly through her part in the No Campaign and had high hopes of becoming First Minister in 2016.
Whilst she will be the seventh leader to go, it’s quite clear that tensions are at breaking point in the Labour Party. What is even more astonishing (to use one of Johann’s favourite words) is that Ed Miliband, and the entire Westminster group of the party for that matter, seem to be blissfully unaware of any of it. With Scottish Labour support dwindling fast, this is no longer a position that they can afford to hold.
Unless we see a quick turn-around from Labour and some very visible change in Scotland and the Scottish Labour Party, they face being utterly destroyed in Scotland. And with Labour largely credited as being the party that delivered a No vote in September, we could see that slim 5% majority disappear quite quickly too.