Brian Monteith is a former Tory student chairman and Conservative MSP. He is now editor of ThinkScotland.org
When does a party political campaign group lose any credibility it
might hope to have? There can be many reasons, but in the case of Labour for
Independence it is when it appears to live on life support provided by politicians
from other parties. This is not just a developing scandal exposing the
Machiavellian approach of separatist campaigners at the highest level. It is a
warning to all parties about how open they can be to subversion from outside.
Back in April 2012, quite early on in Ruth Davidson’s leadership,
the Scottish Conservative Party established Conservative Friends of the
Union. (Not to be mistaken for the group ‘Friends of the Union’
established in 1986 by Ian Gow, John Biggs Davison and a dozen other Tory MPs,
whose main focus was the relationship with Northern Ireland). The Party hoped
to reach out beyond its existing support, saying: “It’s not just for our
members, our activists, our voters. It’s for anyone in Scotland who wants to
help the cause.” In other words, anyone who believed in maintaining the Acts of
Soon, according to the party press statements voters were happily
signing up with 50,000 members reported by the Daily Telegraph and £150,000
raised from mostly small donations – although its more transparent Facebook
page currently displays only 682 likes.
As a model for reaching out beyond the party base, it made sense
and its claimed success must have been noticed, for by July last year another
campaign group was established. This one was called Labour for Independence, and it too was open to people not in the Labour Party – so long as they were not
in any other party. Revealing the gulf between social media campaigning and
troops-on-the-ground activism, it has 3,523 ‘likes’ but admits to only 80 members.
That’s right – it's smaller than most university political clubs.
There is, however, a significant difference with Labour for
Independence – the Labour group has nothing to do with the Labour Party and is
completely at odds with what it stands for. Conservative Friends of the Union supports Conservative policy,
Labour for Independence stands for the opposite of Labour policy – it is the
antithesis of what Labour is about – for Labour is a highly centralised British
party, headquartered in London. How could a party that does not even have a
separate Scottish registration be in favour of independence?
The point of Labour for independence was, to quote its own website
“campaigning within the Labour Party and throughout Scotland, making the case
for the benefits that independence will bring to the people of Scotland.”
In other words it set out from the beginning to change the
Labour Party whilst presenting itself as a legitimate Labour voice across the
country. (Note that it is not Labour Voters or Supporters for Independence – but
simply Labour for Independence, as if it were officially part of the party.)
Given that it was open to anyone outside the Labour Party so long as they are
not members of another party, this meant it was in fact an entryist faction,
seeking to change the Labour Party beyond recognition.
To give a legitimate comparison it would be like forming a
Conservatives for Socialism, or a Conservatives for Nationalisation and
allowing non-Conservatives to be active members. Such an approach goes far further than that of Militant – the
famous party within a party of the eighties that caused the Labour Party so
much trouble. At least in that organisation you still had to actually join
the Labour Party.
The activities of Labour for Independence since its launch betray
the reason it manages to survive. It is given financial and material
support from the Yes Scotland campaign, which in turn is funded by SNP donors.
More openly, it appears regularly at Yes Scotland events where it is supported
by SNP activists – although they are careful not to be wearing their SNP
rosettes or lapel badges at the time.
Last week, ThinkScotland.org published a photograph of a Labour for
Independence gathering at Kilmarnock, together with two other photographs of
previous SNP events that revealed how four out of the five people holding the
Labour for Independence banner were in fact SNP activists – including the SNP
leader of East Ayrshire Council. Henry Hill referred to the incident in his Red White and Blue column for this site earlier this week. A Twitterstorm ensued of accusation and counter-accusation, but by
the weekend further evidence of the duplicity behind Labour for Independence
had surfaced – namely, a photograph of the same banner in Midlothian being held up by four
SNP councillors, and no-one else. The same councillors were also shown in a
local pub with Labour for Independence leaflets ready to be handed out. In East
Lothian, another SNP Councillor was working on the Labour for Independence
In its defence, Labour for Independence claims it was always open
about mixing with Yes Scotland campaigners, but this is disingenuous.
The captions posted on Twitter and Facebook never revealed the SNP affiliations
of those behind the banners or on the stalls – simply having a Yes Scotland
banner adjacent is no more than a useful flag of convenience. The perception is presented that Labour for Independence is well
supported – when a man and a dog is about the sum of it (sans dog).
Beyond the municipal masquerades at street level there was more to
come. The Sunday Herald reported that the Labour for Independence Treasurer,
Celia Fitzgerald, a previous Labour supporter that had left the party to join
the SNP back in 2007 had now left the SNP and rejoined Labour, expressing the
intent to change Labour from within. A photograph she had circulated
showed her and Alex Salmond having a laugh together.
Other Labour for Independence meetings have included speakers such
as Carolyn Leckie, former MSP and a member of the hard left Scottish Socialist
Party. What we are witnessing is the open association and infiltration of
leftist activists seeking to take the Labour Party in Scotland away from its
belief in Britain – whilst at the same time trying to convince ordinary Labour
voters that it is okay to vote for independence. Without a proportion of those Labour voters the independence
referendum will be lost; even if all separatist voters voted Yes it would not
be enough for the fifty per cent plus one that would be needed to break the
It is known that Yes Scotland has funded Labour for Independence
meetings, and that its top officials, including the Chief executive Blair
Jenkins, have attended its meetings. SNP government ministers such as
Mike Russell regularly share platforms with Labour for Independence members
such as Celia Fitzgerald. The purpose of the life support is clear – to give authenticity
and credibility – and present a public face of normality – to an organisation
that would otherwise be seen as a minority interest – like a Jihad for Israel.
that Labour for Independence has been exposed as a sham organisation,
completely at odds with the party it seeks to associate with, the question is:
would it survive without the support of those from other parties that are
Labour’s sworn enemies? And just what is Labour going to do about this
entryism this time?