Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Scottish Labour members should not be blocked from debating Brexit

Campaigning to change policy within the party is not undermining the leadership. So why are Scottish Labour members being prevented a say on the single market, asks Jamie Glackin

Last weekend, member of parliament Ian Murray, member of the Scottish parliament Kezia Dugdale and member of the European parliament Catherine Stihler formed the Scottish Labour for the Single Market Campaign. Its purpose is to campaign alongside its United Kingdom-wide sister to persuade the party at all levels to change tack on its Brexit demands. I was somewhat less encouraged by its detractors who have accused it of undermining Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, and by extension, Jeremy Corbyn.

Pat Rafferty, the Scottish general secretary of Unite, expressed his frustration in the pages of the Sunday Herald, bleating about undermining the leader a week before Scottish conference meets in Dundee. The funny thing is, I recall exactly this sort of thing happening regarding the Trident debate before Labour met in Perth a couple of years back (I know – I was in the chair at the time). And despite scrapping Trident not being Dugdale’s preferred view, she had the good grace to accept the will of conference and adopt its position. It was celebrated by the left as a triumph of party democracy. Fast forward 48 months, and the same process is now sedition.

Which sadly seems to have solidified since last night. As is customary at conferences, the National Executive Committee, (or Scottish Executive Committee on this occasion) meets to go over the proposed debates and motions, composite where necessary and ensure that everything goes swimmingly. That’s the plan anyway. However, submissions on retaining the UK’s membership of the single market post-Brexit proved too much for it yesterday. While agreeing that a debate would be held, the accompanying vote would be based on text best described as ‘vacuous word salad’. Which is, of course, entirely in keeping with what its been since the referendum.

Matters related to Brexit and indeed Trident are reserved matters. But this does not mean that party members all across the UK should not be allowed to express their view. That should be celebrated in a healthy party – and perhaps the reason it is not is that the days of control freakery in the Labour machine have not actually gone at all. Indeed, looking in from the outside of the party hierarchy, it does look like it has got significantly worse. Just look at the calamitous opening session of the National Policy Forum a fortnight ago, or last night’s SEC decision.

We are never done hearing that we are now the largest leftwing party in Europe and that is indeed a remarkable feat that Corbyn deserves credit for. So how about we ask the members what they think about the most serious economic upheaval to face our country since the second world war? I dunno, but that does seem pretty democratic to me.

I did not join the Labour party to be a cheerleader for anyone, so if I disagree then surely I have the right to express my opinion? Personally speaking, I know that any form of Brexit will likely harm my business and therefore my family so I do not really care that much for ‘respecting the result’. I also know I am not alone in finding the Labour position on Brexit tortured in extremis since the referendum, so at the very least the Scottish Labour for the Single Market Campaign and its UK sister are at last talking about something that will have a positive effect on everyone in this country in a way that most people will understand.

But what is gut-wrenching in all this is that even these campaigns are tacitly accepting that Britain will be poorer, but that it is the best mitigation that we can come up with. I hope I am wrong about the future but I am afraid I do not see the ‘sunshine of socialism’ on the horizon, more the ‘uplands of austerity’, unless Labour can temper the withdrawal process and its terms as much as possible. This means remaining in the single market as well as the customs union – so this Labour member will not be shutting up about it. Thankfully, now, it seems I am not alone. And despite the silliness of last night’s SEC decision, we are not going away either.

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Jamie Glackin is a company director and former chair of the Scottish Labour party. He tweets at @JamieGlackin1

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Photo: Calum Hutchison

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