Labour for independence? Really?

Labour for independence? Really?

by Euan McColm
article from Wednesday 31, July, 2013

ONE of the more interesting – and surprising developments – in the referendum campaign has been the emergence of a group called Labour for Independence.

This organisation claims to be “campaigning within the Labour Party and throughout Scotland, making the case for the benefits that independence will bring”.

Labour for Independence dresses itself in the party’s red – replacing the rose with a thistle - and its leader, Allan Grogan, is a card-carrying member.

The organisation has grown in profile, receiving press and television coverage, most recently for a conference last weekend at which members backed a trident ban.

Voters are entitled - positively encouraged – to believe that Labour for Independence represents a growing movement with the Labour Party in support of Scottish Independence.

On this page is a photograph of five people posing proudly in front of a banner.

In the centre is Alex Bell, chairman of Labour for Independence. Bell is a member of the Labour Party.

The other four? Spot them all – wearing SNP rosettes – in those other photos.

The chunky fellow to the far right at that Labour for Independence stall is Councillor Douglas Reid, the SNP leader of East Ayrshire Council.

Eighty per cent of those rallying round the Labour for Independence banner in that photo, circulated by the group itself, are supporters of the SNP.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop Yes Scotland campaigners and Labour for Independence members – or a lone member – posing for a happy photograph, together, but why else would Labour for Independence circulate it if not to give the impression that it enjoys wider support? The group is using SNP members to publicise itself, to give the impression it’s running a vibrant campaign.

What about the bright young chap clutching a bundle of Labour for Independence leaflets in that other photograph below, taken in Glasgow last week?


He’s Greg Hepburn, Director of Communications and Events of Young Scots for Independence, the youth wing of the SNP.

Hepburn explained to me that a friend asked him to hold the leaflets and pose. When the photograph appeared online, Hepburn commented “leafletting (sic) like a boss”.

There are similar reports of SNP members in other areas of the country turning out in support of Labour for Independence.

Working “within the Labour Party”?

Last weekend’s Labour for Independence conference could be attended by anyone who chose to join.

Thus, prominent independence campaigner Pat Kane - avowedly a member of no party, but a man with little affection for the present day Labour Party – became a member of Labour for Independence.

Shona McAlpine – office manager to the rising SNP star, Humza Yousaf, Minister for External Affairs and International Development – also participated.

McAlpine, a former Secretary of the SNP’s Glasgow Regional Association, tweeted: “I am in no way an SNP member/supporter, Nor a member of @labourforindy ... Just a free spirit representing @WomenForIndy :)”

Ah, yes, some might argue, but we’re interested in Labour’s traditional values or some such. But that would be disingenuous. This is Labour for Independence, not Sympathisers with Labour’s traditional values for Independence. And, anyway, that group already exists in the form of the left-wing of the SNP.

We struggle to find any credible supporters for Labour for Independence from within the membership of the Scottish Labour Party.

In fact, those who have encouraged the group have had a vested interest in the story that a growing number of Labour supporters actively support Scottish independence.

There were no key Labour party figures at the group’s launch last year, though it was addressed by Dennis Canavan and Blair Jenkins of the Yes Scotland campaign.

Why wouldn’t they? The Labour for Independence story helps. Even if it’s not true.

I hoped to speak with Allan Grogan about the Labour for Independence group. He asked me to submit questions by email.

I wanted to know how many members Labour for Independence has and how many of them are card carrying members of the Labour Party.

I was also keen to learn when Grogan had joined the Labour Party and, if he had joined on more than one occasion, when he had most recently done so.

Grogan explained that he joined in December 2010, though he remains a little known figure among party activists in his home patch of Angus.

In an illuminating little moment, during an online “debate” with Labour MP Tom Harris, Grogan, tweeting from the Labour for Independence account, wrote: “So those in your party who disagree with you and leadership must be Nats there is no other alternative?”

Harris replied: “Odd that you say "your" party, not "our" party...”

Grogan also tweeted: “To clear something up, said many times. We are for Labour members/ex members supporters/ex supporters and hopefully supporters yet to come.”

So, people for independence, then?

A real Labour for Independence group would be a fascinating addition to the referendum campaign, though its existence would represent a huge political improbability.

There are Labour Party supporters – even members – who also back Scottish independence. Polls have put the numbers at anything from one-in-ten to one-in-eight.

But independence is not central to their political ideology in the way it is to nationalists. If it was, they’d be in the SNP.

Labour for Independence has been good value for the SNP. It has – for a while at least  helped created the impression that even among the nationalists’ fiercest rivals there –are those who share their mission.

Usefully for the SNP, the group is difficult for Labour to criticise: we can already hear the accusations of control-freakery that would follow.

Voters who believe Grogan and his acolytes represents a real movement for independence within Labour ranks are being conned. From the people in its publicity shots to the activists leafleting “like a boss”, Labour for Independence is kept alive by Scottish nationalists. The impression of momentum is down to the involvement of people such as an SNP Minister’s bag carrier, and the support of senior Yes Scotland officials.

Labour for Independence is a sham, a tawdry little con in which some of the party’s most bitter rivals are complicit.

Headline Picture: ThinkScotland does not have rights to the individual photographs shown but was provided with a composite which we decided to publish in the public interest.


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