Why we should mourn the death of Labour in Scotland


One Labour campaigner in Scotland labels his party’s strategy “defend the keep”. The Scottish Nationalists have stormed Labour’s once impregnable citadel, forcing Ed Miliband’s party to fall back and defend only ever-diminishing territory inside the castle walls.

The scale of the rout facing Labour next Thursday is unprecedented. Recent polls show Jim Murphy, Labour’s leader north of the border, losing his East Renfrewshire seat (home to much of Scotland’s Jewish community), while the man running the party’s national campaign, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, also appears to be heading for defeat. This week, another poll showed Labour losing 40 of the 41 seats it won in 2010.

There are many reasons to fear the demise of Scottish Labour. Defeat for Labour empowers the SNP: a party which, if Ed Miliband is forced to rely on its votes in Westminster, will drag him to a yet more hostile attitude towards Israel.

But there are reasons to mourn it, too. Despite what one observer terms the “vicious anti-Israel politics of the Scottish left”, Scottish Labour has produced some of the Jewish state’s firmest friends. Over the past 15 years three Scots – Jim Murphy, Anne McGuire and the late David Cairns – have chaired Labour Friends of Israel. Each proved unflinching in their opposition to the rise of anti-Zionism on the party’s hard left, the demand for boycotts and the denial of Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorism.

LFI’s current chair in the House of Lords is Meta Ramsay, the redoubtable Scottish peer and former MI6 case officer. In the Commons, Tom Harris and Michael McCann, who in February staged a debate to highlight Hamas’ rearmament plans, are powerful advocates of a two-state solution.

A string of Scottish Labour heavyweights who have now left the political scene – Gordon Brown, John Reid, George Robertson, and George Foulkes – were all strong supporters of Israel.

The association has both ethical roots and a hard political edge. Mr Brown, for instance, frequently traced his support to his father’s twice-yearly trips to Israel as chair of the Church of Scotland’s Israel Committee. Like many of his colleagues, Murphy is a practising Catholic, while Mr Cairns was a priest before entering politics. At the same time, aspiring Scottish Labour politicians played a pivotal role during the 1980s in the Clause IV group which drove Militant out of Labour’s youth and student wings. Pro-Palestinian groups, such as the General Union of Palestinian Students, were associated with the hard left, while UJS forged its close alliance with Labour Students in the internecine battles of the early 1980s.

Strong grassroots support from Scotland helped Mr Miliband eke out his narrow victory in the 2010 leadership election. Having seen a swing to it in that year’s general election, Scottish Labour now faces electoral oblivion. The Israeli cause within the Labour party will be weaker for it.

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