On October 24th, Scottish Labour was plunged into chaos. The sudden resignation of leader Johann Lamont shook a party that was already left reeling in the aftermath of a referendum campaign that, despite being an overall victory for the pro-union Better Together camp, made dire reading for a Labour Party that had just experienced the rejection of much of its traditional heartlands. Hundreds of thousands of traditionally Labour voters had turned their backs on their former loyalties, embracing the nationalist ideal of independence at all costs, and now it seemed that Lamont had turned her back on Labour too.
But out of the chaos and ruin, two challengers arose, both committed to rebuilding Scottish Labour in their own ideological image. On one hand, a real, radical agenda for a Labour Party true to its roots; on the other, a continuation of the shallow shell of style-over-substance Blairism that defined the New Labour era. In many ways, this leadership race mirrors the titanic struggles of the 80s and early 90s between the left and right of the party, yet the public mood could not be more different.
In the 1990s, a once-leviathan Conservative government still held sway over Britain, the Labour Party left in the shadowy fringes of opposition for well over a decade. Determined to end eighteen years of opposition, Labour under Blair abandoned principle in favour of power, blind to the devastating consequences of their actions that would only surface in years to come. The public supported them, desiring a change, any change, from a Tory government that had grown too used to power, regardless of policy.
That contrasts sharply with the state of Scotland today. The SNP, who have governed Scotland for the best part of the last decade, are only now entering their zenith in the aftermath of the referendum that many SNP supporters seem a tad confused about who won. Soaring in the polls, much of the nationalists’ success is owed to the failures of New Labour, and the style over substance approach that went hand in hand with it. Perhaps more importantly, the abandonment of principle that accompanied Tony Blair’s ascension has greatly disenfranchised vast numbers of traditional Labour voters. During the 90s, the New Labour crowd insisted that these voters had no-where else to go; today, the SNP are proving them wrong.
Labour in Scotland is on the brink. Continue on the trajectory of Blairism and Labour will fall. The weight of the Iraq War is simply too heavy on the shoulders of both the New Labour veterans and the New Labour brand to go backwards. The betrayal of socialism still stains the New Labour name in the eyes of many, particularly Scottish, working class voters. If New Labour, in the form of Jim Murphy, rears its head in Scotland once more, Labour will topple into the abyss. But there is still hope left for Labour. That hope is Neil Findlay.
Railway nationalisation. An end to poverty. The scrapping of Trident. These radical, popular, vote-winning policies are what Neil is offering. It is these sorts of policies that are going to win the hearts and minds of not just former Labour voters who have left for the SNP, but also of the countless people who have abandoned the ballot box, seeing nothing but a sea of homogeny. With the alternative being vague commitments to change and a promise not to raise taxes on the middle class, it’s not difficult to see what would win the votes.
Neil Findlay can deliver for Scotland in a way no other candidate can. Out of all the candidates, not just in this leadership election but also in the upcoming Holyrood election in 2016, Neil is the only choice with real experience in the real world. Only elected to Parliament in 2011, Neil has had real experience, as a bricklayer and later as a teacher, that gives him a perspective on issues that careerist politicians just cannot have. This sets him apart, gives him a splash of colour in a monotonous world, and that is exactly what Labour needs.
In a time were all politicians are seen as the same, a time when voter apathy is at an all-time high, Labour needs to offer something different. Voters are abandoning the Labour Party in droves, accepting the suffocating embrace of nationalism in the belief that it offers a new politics, a change from the establishment, however misplaced this belief may be. In years past, it would be the Labour Party that the people flocked to, the workers’ party, the peoples’ party. We can be that party again. But it will take radicalism, real commitment to change, and a very real break with the Westminster establishment to do so. And that’s something only Neil offers.