Monday, 26 October 2015

Labour's Woes (26/10/14)

Johann Lamont decision to stand down as Scottish Labour leader has been followed by the usual 'weasel worded' tributes about what a great job she has done in holding the party together and seeing off the Yes campaign in Scotland's independence referendum. 

But the political problem that Labour is widely perceived as having lost the argument and, ironically, the winning 'Better Together' side is now in the doldrums as it struggles to explain why extensive new powers are so essential for the Scottish Parliament, yet not important enough to feature as a second question on the referendum ballot paper.   

So Labour is now in a giant mess and one entirely of its own making, although for me the most telling issue is that so many senior Labour figures - MSPs, MPs and local councillors - all failed to stand up and be counted over equal pay.

Johann Lamont to stand down as leader of Scottish Labour

Her resignation comes after weeks of negative briefings from MPs Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

By Lindsay McIntosh - The Times

Johann Lamont will stand down as the leader of Scottish Labour today amid deep concern at London’s treatment of the party north of the border.

Ms Lamont’s resignation comes after weeks of negative briefings from some MPs. Her camp is understood to be furious at Ed Miliband’s failure to address the backbiting.

Despite being on the winning side of the Scottish independence referendum, Ms Lamont has faced heavy criticism for her role in the campaign, which was seen as being too low-profile.

She took over the party from Iain Gray, after its humiliating defeat by the SNP at the 2011 Holyrood election. Labour went through an internal restructuring and the result was supposed to give more power to the Scottish leader. Ms Lamont was officially in charge of Labour’s Scottish MPs as well as MSPs.

However, the major issues for the party in recent months appear to have been taken out of her hands. She was sidelined during the investigation into alleged vote-rigging in Falkirk and her authority was drastically undermined on further devolution proposals.

Sources said that she had “held her tongue” during both controversies for the good of the party, but “the final straw” had been the treatment of Ian Price, the general secretary of the Scottish Labour party. He is understood to have been sidelined by London without anyone consulting Ms Lamont.

Today, Ms Lamont will write to the chairman of the party’s Scottish executive, informing him of her decision.

Anas Sarwar, the MP who has served as her deputy, will take over as interim leader. Jackie Baillie, the MSP, is expected to lead for the party at first minister’s questions when Holyrood returns from recess this week. However, sources have spoken about the possibility of Gordon Brown eventually taking over. The former prime minister played a major role in the campaign to save the Union, and hinted before the vote about a possible move to Holyrood.

Ms Lamont, 57, is married to Archie Graham, the Labour councillor in Glasgow who helped to deliver the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. The couple have two children. Born in Glasgow into a family from Tiree, she was educated at a state school in Scotland’s biggest city before training as a teacher at Jordanhill teacher training college. She went on to work as a teacher and her no-nonsense approach in the classroom carried over into Holyrood. Although she has faced a lot of difficulties during her tenure, she is widely liked at Holyrood and is known for her quick put-downs of Alex Salmond at FMQs.

Her resignation means that she will not cross swords with Nicola Sturgeon, the incoming leader of the SNP, at the Thursday lunchtime set-piece battles.

The MSP for Glasgow Pollok has represented her constituency since 1999 and has been leader since December 2011. It is understood she intends to continue as an MSP. Sources said she would stand again in 2016. She had also been insisting until recently that she wanted to be first minister after 2016.

In an interview with the Daily Record today, she said: “I am standing down so that the debate our country demands can take place. I firmly believe that Scotland’s place is in the UK and I do not believe in powers for power’s sake.

“For example, I think power should be devolved from Holyrood to communities. But colleagues need to realise that the focus of Scottish politics is now Holyrood, not Westminster.”

A UK Labour party source said: “She realised it was time for a change in Scotland, she has put the party first. Ed [Miliband] regards her as an honourable woman who has served the party well.”

Scottish Labour (24 March 2014)

Reports from Perth suggest that the Scottish Labour Party is taking a decisive turn to the left in order to try and outflank its main political enemy - the SNP.

Apparently this move is also supported by the UK Labour leader, Ed Miliband.

But if you ask me, this is all just rhetoric and hot air because these people have been nowhere to be seen over the past 10 years in the fight for equal pay in Scotland.

Nor do I recall Johann Lamont protesting about Gordon Brown's decision to get rid of the 10p tax rate during the last Labour Government, when Ed Miliband was an MP and a Government Minister, of course.

Desperate times require desperate measures, so they say, though I've always thought that a complete 'about turn' has got to be convincing - yet based on its track record the Scottish Labour Party is all talk and no action.

Don't Hold Your Breath (26 April 2012)

A kind reader drew my attention to the following article which appeared in the Daily Record yesterday - a somewhat desperate appeal by Scottish Labour leader  - Johann Lamont - for the votes of trade union members.

The laugh is that I've yet to hear Johann Lamont - or any other Labour MSP for that matter - say anything remotely supportive about the fight for equal pay in recent times - or the role played by the big Labour run councils which has been a disgrace in my opinion.

For years Scotland's Labour-run councils - Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire - were guilty of widespread pay discrimination against the lowest paid council workers - the great majority of whom are women of course.

Yet for years the trade unions in Scotland turned a blind eye to what was going on - they kept their low paid women members completely in dark - because union leaders didn't want to face up to what was going on.

Since that would have meant the Labour-supporting unions calling a spade a spade - and standing up to the political leadership of these large Labour-run councils. 

But they chose not to - the trade unions just chose to look the other way - at a time when council budgets in Scotland doubled in size over the ten years from 1997 to 2007.

So forgive me if I tale these claims about Scottish Labour's crusade against injustice and inequality - with a giant pinch of salt.

Because all the evidence points in the opposite direction - of cosy relations between Labour run councils and tame trade unions - which have worked against the interests of ordinary union members on issues such as equal pay.

I resigned from the Scottish Labour party in 1999 because of the corrupting nature of this relationship - which continues to bedevil the work of the trade unions - whose leaders still put party political interests above those of their own members - especially when crucial issues come to the fore.

I am not a member of any political party these days - nor do I support any particular party when it comes to local or national elections - I make up my mind on the issues of the day and by weighing up all of the candidates.

To my mind that is exactly how the trade unions in Scotland should behave - because their historical love affair with the Labour party is not in the best interests - of ordinary union members.

Which leads me to conclude that Johann Lamont is not just wrong - but that she is deliberately ignoring Labour's track record - all the evidence of her own eyes and ears - for these past ten years and more.

So if you're waiting on the Scottish Labour crusade arriving anytime soon - my advice is both simple and clear - don't hold your breath. 

Johann Lamont: Trade union members should vote Labour, not SNP

Scots Labour leader Johann Lamont yesterday launched a bid to win back trade union memmbers who backed the SNP at the last election.

She vowed her party would listen to the unions and accused the SNP of “deceit”, warning they would never make the battle for a fairer society top priority.

Addressing the STUC annual congress in Inverness, she said: “The Scottish Labour Party, while I have breath in my body, will listen to the views of trade unionists.

“I am already trying to reach out to those of your members who found themselves voting nationalist at the last election to ask them to be part of our crusade.

“My Scottish Labour Party is a crusade – to fight poverty, inequality and injustice.”

Tens of thousand of union members who support Labour financially through a levy on their membership fees voted for the SNP in last year’s Holyrood election.

Lamont urged the STUC to reject the “student politics” of independence which, she claimed, were already being watered down by Salmond in the face of weak public support.

She described SNP plans to join NATO and keep the monarchy, the pound and British-issued driving licences – if the country splits from the UK – as a “PR strategy to save their own skins”.

She added: “Progressive politics is not something to be bolted on to another cause.

“It’s our inspiration. It’s why trade unions were founded. It’s why trade unionists founded their own political party – the Labour Party. That is our pulse. Our heart.”

Lamont also launched an attack on the “deception and deceit” of the SNP Government.

She said: “They are a Government who tell us they are radical about childcare but we must wait seven years before – maybe, perhaps – it will be delivered.

“They trumpet new investment for four months after they have been told it has been withdrawn.
“The accuse others of lying when we expose the obscenity of NHS patients sleeping without blankets.” 

Fine Kettle of Fish (24 February 2012)

Labour's UK deputy leader - Harriet Harman is in Scotland today for a high-level summit on women's employment with the new Scottish Labour leader - Johann Lamont.

Both women style themselves as committed feminists - strong supporters of equality issues and so by logical extension they must be firm believers in equal pay.

Both women also have access to good quality information about the extent of the scandal over equal pay - both in Scotland and across the rest of the UK.

Because Harriet is married to Jack Dromey, the former deputy general secretary of Unite - while Johann is married to Archie Graham, a senior Labour councillor in Glasgow City Council for years.

Yet as far as I know neither Harriet or Johann have spoken out publicly - to condemn the widespread pay discrimination in local councils - and the bonuses paid only to traditional male jobs.

Which the employers and the trade unions - of course - turned a blind eye to for so many years.

Now I I find this utterly fascinating - probably because it's the most obvious and glaring example of widespread pay discrimination there has been in the UK for the past 20 years - one that's been going on right under the noses of many Labour councils and the Labour supporting trade unions.

Who wouldn't be fascinated - by such a strange and peculiar phenomenon.

So why - I ask myself - should Harriet and Johann get themselves so so worked up about  women's employment and unemployment at this stage?

When they have effectively ignored - for years - the hugely important issue of equal pay and low pay - for many thousands of women employed by local councils in Scotland.

Johann has been an MSP in the Scottish Parliament since 1999 - and I believe Harriet has even longer service as an MP at Westminster.

I'm pretty sure Archie Graham has been a Glasgow City councillor all that time.

But I know for a fact that Jack Dromey was a key player in the trade unions - because he was one of the signatories to the 1997 UK Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement.

Jack was the lead UK negotiator for the TGWU at that time - which has merged since to become Unite, the union.

So there we have it - a fine kettle of fish - from a Labour party point of view anyway.