I was not expecting to be sitting and writing this follow-up to my open letter of resignation from the Labour Party to Richard Leonard last week, as I had no idea it would be of such interest to so many throughout Scotland. However from the various comments I have received over the past few days, mainly positive, and some negative, especially in light of some questions being raised, I thought that it may be beneficial to expand and clarify on some of the thoughts I had been having for some time.
To go back to the beginning, I have been asked, or indeed by some I have been accused, in terms of why I supported Labour to begin with. To answer this question I would have to go back to my teenage years. Like many I suspect who may not admit it, I watched ‘Spitting Image‘ as a teenager, and this had the very real effect of capturing my interest in politics and in the various figures that operated within it. The caricatured versions of real people made me want to learn more about those people in real life. I grew up with Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, and could see the negative effects that Conservative politics were having on Scotland throughout our social and economic existence. There was no devolution at that time to give any sort of meaningful voice to Scotland; all we had was the Scottish Office in Whitehall. When John Smith became leader of the Labour party in 1992 at a time I was in High School and very much in my formative years in terms of developing a world view, there seemed to be a real hope and a direction being instilled within the Labour Party, something that had been missing since the 1970s. Then following his sad and early death, there came Tony Blair. Now on reflection many of Blair’s policies and actions can be understood to have been massively flawed, however what is difficult to explain to a lot of people who may not have been politically engaged at that time, particularly during his first term in office from 1997, there was a genuinely positive outlook on both Tony Blair and ‘New’ Labour, particularly in Scotland. A referendum on devolution for Scotland was a Labour party manifesto promise when they came to power that year, and they did indeed follow through in every aspect of that promise, delivering a new Scottish Parliament and Executive (now Government of course). The Labour party’s work related to devolution and the creation of our own administration was a project that took two years of hard work. It was throughout this time and through a combination of my upbringing under a hugely damaging conservative party and the positive steps for Scotland carried out by Labour that I began to support the party.
On the lengths of time discussed within my resignation letter last week then, it should be clear where the ‘over 20 years of support’ comes from. In terms of my own membership to the Labour Party – I would need to log on to my space on the Party’s website to establish the exact year I joined as I cannot recall off of the top of my head (and I don’t think I will be able to do that now having resigned), however it was already over a decade at the time of the Brexit vote, and so I was being extremely conservative with that figure. It may have been thirteen or fourteen years ago. Certainly it was at a time that the Scottish Parliament was still a quite fresh institution and that there was still significant goodwill toward Labour through a large proportion of Scottish Society, even if there were signs of discontent and dissatisfaction in the air.
Here is where I would like to make one thing clear. I am not, and never have been an entrenched voter who blindly agrees with every area of policy that any party may have, whether that party be Labour, SNP, the Liberal Democrats, or the Green Party. I do not believe there is legitimacy or reality in agreeing in such a homogenous manner with everything anybody says – indeed those are hallmarks of a number of negative traits such as conditioning, brainwashing, or even fanaticism. I would class myself as being ideologically driven and context driven. For example, I could never, even vote for the Conservative Party, as their fundamental ideology is completely at odds with my own beliefs on how a society should be constructed. I am a socialist at heart and believe that there should be a redistribution of wealth through a fairer tax system, closing loopholes on tax avoidance for multi-national companies, and looking after the most vulnerable in our society. As such, I could only consider agreeing with, aligning myself with or voting for a party (and the people within it) who broadly share those ideologies. I believe disagreement with specific policies is a good thing and should be encouraged even within a political party in an open, calm, and transparent manner – this avoids any sensationalist headlines on ‘backroom bust-ups’ and the like. I don’t believe in the use of a three-line whip system unless it is a specific manifesto issue that a party ran their election campaign on. In addition, having such reasoned and evidence-based debate would help to ease out any opinions that do not hold water under genuine scrutiny – policies devoid of substance would be reduced significantly. Fundamentally I believe it is okay to disagree, and one should not be placed into political exile just because they disagree with a policy as long as they retain the core values necessary.
It is partly on these last few sentences that I began having frustrations regarding Labour both in Scotland and on the wider UK stage a number of years ago now. As mentioned (some above and some in my resignation letter last week); a refusal to entertain genuine debate within the party, a refusal to accept responsibility for their own downfall in Scotland, a number of areas of policy that simply do not stand up to close scrutiny, abandoning any form of support for Scotland should that differ in any way from UK national policy, and other misguided actions of late. Importantly, there has been no Labour Party leader in the past decade now that has truly stood up for Scotland either in that UK or Scottish specific sense. I believe the last was Jack McConnell who left office in 2007.
Now for my own background and why the EU issue resonates strongly with me. I am in the fortunate position of having gained a deep understanding of all aspects of EU (and indeed other international political organisations) policy, political institutions, and laws. This is due to having initially taken Advanced EU law as part of my undergraduate legal studies, and then on moving on to become a university lecturer being given ownership of all EU studies on the former degree programme I lectured on from 2007-2014. As such I was engaged with both teaching and research multiple aspects of the EU for a significant period of time during that timeframe in particular. From 2014 to date, I took a sideways step into the field of criminal justice, where I currently sit as programme leader for the Criminal Justice degree at UWS. On that degree I also lead the provision on both Comparative law and justice, and for Victimology and Victimisation – both of which contain numerous aspects of international law and policy. Indeed from a quality perspective I act as an external examiner (for those not familiar with academia – every university has a number of external contracted individuals to act as a sort of ‘quality control’ mechanism for their own degrees and assessments) for two postgraduate international law Masters programmes in England. I say I am fortunate to have gained such knowledge as I don’t consider making these claims as some sort of arrogance or as anything of superiority. Were it not for my own education and career, there is a good chance I would never have had the opportunity to acquire such an amount of experience of these areas in the manner that I have. I think of myself as extremely fortunate to be in the position that I am.
With all of the issues discussed here then, it should hopefully be fairly clear to readers as to why I feel as passionately as I do about retaining EU Membership, as I argue such from a position of education and experience in the issues involved. So when I see that there is a very real and present danger to our Status as members of the EU such as with Brexit, I am keen to explore all avenues open to potentially retaining or reacquiring that Membership. At present, the only way I can feasibly see this happening is through an independent Scotland making its own application to join, unless something remarkable in the sense of an about turn on Brexit happens at Westminster. As such, I cannot accept kneejerk responses such as those from both Kezia Dugdale in 2016 and Richard Leonard just two short weeks ago in automatically discounting independence without an evidence base to back up such an adopted position of certainty. This is simply playing politics with our country’s future and the future of our children. In 2016 and in the aftermath of the EU referendum, I emailed Kezia directly and implored her to not adopt such a stance and to at least commission an economic report on the implications of all sides of the issue; what would be the impact of remaining in the UK and out of the EU, what would be the impact of Scotland being independent and in the EU, or indeed what would be the impact of Scotland becoming independent and not part of the EU (which is a different scenario to what was envisaged in 2014 when a large part of the argument for staying in the Union was retained EU Membership). I emphasised that surely only once such an evidence base of the various impacts was gathered should she and the Labour Party adopt a formal stance. I would love for somebody to truly provide a rational argument to say that this approach should not have been followed, however I am yet to hear such an argument being presented, especially considering that Kezia did not have the courtesy to reply to my email.
On the other hand, I emailed Nicola Sturgeon at the same time, outlining that I was deeply concerned with what had happened with the Brexit vote, that I was aware of the Standing Council on Europe that was being formed to tackle the important issues that leaving the EU would require analysis of and associated action taken, and explaining that although I was not as high profile as some of those selected to be on that Council, I had significant experience of all of the issues within the Council’s remit and would be available to assist in any way that I could. I outlined to be clear that I was at that time a Labour Party member but that I believed the issue was bigger than that of Party Politics and would happily put any of those issues aside for the good of the country. Unlike the lack of response from Kezia Dugdale, a couple of weeks later I received not just a cursory acknowledgement and thanks for interest, but a detailed personal letter in response that (without breaching any confidentiality so sticking to generalities) directly referenced my specific offer of help, outlined the approaches planned by the Standing Council, outlined the Government’s general objectives relating to that remit, and returning to my offer of assistance assured me that it had been read in detail and may be taken up if the Standing Council were to explore areas that fell under my particular areas of expertise as well as for other potential future opportunities.
To emphasise and be concise. I received no reply from the party leader of the party to which I had been a member for over a decade relating to one of the two most major issues to face Scotland in the past forty-plus years. Yet I received a clear and detailed response from the leader of the ‘opposition’. To say I was disillusioned would be an understatement. So little did the Labour Party care about actually gathering evidence from those with knowledge and experience of key issues of national importance, in favour of pure opposition for the sake of opposition. It was (is) an obsession, and not a healthy one, perhaps more akin to a disease that has ravaged the Party of any true meaning and direction. In truth, though its own actions and not those of anybody else, the Labour Party is effectively dead in Scotland – further evidence of the disease analogy.
Moving forward to 2018, and as disillusioned as I had been, I had been clinging to hope that somehow Labour might somehow recognise their own failings, even admit that they had got a number of things wrong in Scotland in particular as the indisputable evidence of their own decline here continues. I had lingering hope that there might be a return to those roots of fighting for the people and realising that the Scottish context is different to the UK one and that different political approaches may be necessary. Instead, not only with Richard Leonard a fortnight ago did we receive yet another backward step, but one that has the potential to be even more damaging to Scotland than Kezia’s statements in 2016. I was astonished to read and hear Leonard’s intention not only to oppose a second Scottish independence referendum, but to actually have this included within the UK Labour Party Manifesto. Yet again with no evidence base, and yet again with no real substantive rationale beyond opposition for the sake of opposition. It was a step too far, a straw that broke a camel’s back, and one that to be honest I am glad in a way has happened, as it gave me that push to write the resignation letter that has been read as of the time of writing this follow-up over 15,000 times in the space of less than 72 hours.
I do not intend to immediately jump to total allegiance of another political party, as my experiences of Labour have left me with a horrible taste in my mouth of the realities of direct association. Instead I will do what I have set out earlier and what is in my nature – take a step back, a deep breath, and fully evaluate the context we currently find ourselves in. Once I have done this and feel comfortable in the direction of travel I truly believe we as a country should move in, I will make my honest feelings known, just as I have done over the course of the past week.
I thank you all for reading and the hundreds of comments I have received – most have been positive, some have been negative, but they all add to the conversation on the future of our nation which is good – and anything I might have said or done that has encouraged such a conversation I am happy about. I don’t expect everybody to agree with me – many may disagree – such is the nature of human experience and free thought, and that is absolutely fine. All I would ask is that comments are kept civil in nature and tone. Thank you all once again.