Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Labour pains

Johann Lamont’s acrimonious departure as Scottish Labour leader will make her party’s relationship with UK Labour a key issue in the contest for a successor.

In her exit interview with the Daily Record, she described Scottish Labour as a “branch office” and claimed the UK party removed her general secretary Ian Price.

Former First Minister Jack McConnell has also entered the fray, telling the BBC that the creation of the Scottish Labour leader post should have meant that “the leader of the Scottish Labour party had authority over the party organisation".

He said, if Lamont’s accusation is well-founded, then “rules have been broken”.

So, where does the truth lie?

Although Lamont became the first leader of Scottish Labour in 2011, organisational devolution (in strict rule book terms) did not follow.

Price, like all “Scottish Labour” staffers working out of the Bath Street headquarters, was employed by UK Labour and line managed by UK General Secretary Iain McNicol.

A copy of the job description for post of Scottish general secretary – helpfully provided by a Labour contact – makes clear who had control.

The “specific responsibilities” included:

-          Helping implement the (UK Labour) National Executive Committee’s “corporate aims”
-          Day to day management of all “Labour Party staff in Scotland”. Not, of course, the non-existent Scottish Labour employees
-          “Liaison with the General Secretary, and, other staff members and the NEC about all aspects of Party work in Scotland.”
-          “Undertaking any other reasonable tasks (including duties outside Scotland) as may be required by the General Secretary.”
-          “The General Secretary-Scotland will demonstrate a flexible approach to work, presenting a quarterly report to the General Secretary and Scottish Labour Leader on the implementation and fulfilment of the Scottish Review.”

Against this backdrop, it seems odd that anyone in Scottish Labour could be surprised about the line of command. It was spelled out in black and white.

The key point in the autonomy versus control debate is money. 

Scottish Labour does not receive an abundance of direct donations and relies of cash transfers from UK Labour to operate. If Scottish Labour spent what it pulled in, the party would probably fold.

Given that UK Labour pays the bills, it seems inevitable that the parent party would expect some sort of influence.

If Scottish Labour wants organisational autonomy, its next leader should look to at the root financial cause of the dependence.